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114 posts categorized "on all things Starbucks"

April 10, 2011

ONWARD | Howard Schultz

NOTE: To understand my Starbucks bias, scroll to read my disclosure statement.

OnwardI can’t recommend Howard Schultz’s book, ONWARD: How Starbucks fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul, to every business book reader. I can only recommend Howard book chronicling his second go-round as Starbucks ceo to about 250,000 people.

ONWARD will only appeal to the current 200,000 Starbucks employees, thousands of ex-employees, thousands of wannabe employees, analysts working on Wall Street, and a handful of Starbucks customer zealots.

ONWARD has such focused appeal because it’s all inside baseball stuff. Howard positions too many insignificant details as earth-shattering business defining decisions. The only people who can fully appreciate and understand the minutia Howard writes about are those 250,000 people whose jobs are linked to Starbucks or whose lives are fanatically linked to Starbucks.

For example, Howard spends time writing about the switchover from the old automatic espresso machines to the new automatic espresso machines. He waxes poetically about giving Starbucks baristas “world-class technology at their fingertips.” And he agonizes about finding the opportune time to “announce the Mastrena to the marketplace [Wall Street].” Palpable stuff for those closest to Starbucks and not really for anyone else.

Another palpable moment in the transformation story of Starbucks detailed by Howard is the decision to remove heated sandwiches from the stores. Howard felt, and rightfully so, the smell of burnt cheese overtook the smell of coffee in the stores. So we, the reader, get to learn all the details about Howard being conflicted in removing the sandwiches because sales would suffer and Wall Street wouldn’t be happy.

We also get to learn the nitty gritty in how Starbucks cracked the code on serving heated sandwiches without overtaking the smell of coffee. Turns out, according to Howard, “... by moving the cheese to the top of the sandwich and lowering the baking temperature to about 300º F, the cheese was less likely to burn. The result was, I had to admit, a breakfast offering that was worthy of our coffee.”

Now do you understand the limited appeal of this book? This is all great stuff for Starbucks employees to know and for prospective employees to be aware of, but not necessarily anything anyone else would be remotely interested in.

AWWARD_cover Besides the book’s focused appeal, ONWARD has many AWKWARD moments. One such awkward moment is where Howard refers to himself, multiple times, as the founder of Starbucks. (Jerry Baldwin, Zev Seigal, and Gorden Bowker might have something to say about that.)

Another awkward ONWARD moment deals with Starbucks positioning its lighter-taste profile coffee, Pike Place Roast, as “... nothing less than our reinvention of brewed coffee.” Howard writes, “For customers, Pike Place Roast ushered back in some of what had been missing in our coffee experience. Aroma. Freshness. A little theater. And... Pike Place would be proof that the company was actively reclaiming its coffee authority.”

Most people I talk to and the Starbucks employees I’ve talked with have a different opinion about Pike Place Roast. It’s lacks the bold flavor Starbucks built its coffee reputation on and in no way, can this every day coffee be viewed as reinventing brewed coffee. It’s simply a coffee that tastes more like coffee people can expect from Dunkin Donuts and McDonald’s. Howard even admits Pike Place Roast is “... a bit light for [his] personal preference.”

Perhaps the most awkward moment is the many times Howard derides how Wall Street measures the success of a company based upon short-term financial figures. Yet, Howard essentially claims victory in transforming the company because in fiscal 2010, financials for the company were at an all-time from revenue to operating income to operating margin. It’s too early and born of too much hubris to proclaim victory.

Awkward moments aside, there are many VANGUARD moments in ONWARD where Howard shares smart, thought-leading business advice for entrepreneurs, marketing managers, and business owners/operators. However, these vanguard moments are hidden deep inside in the 330+ pages of overly dramatized details.

I’ve collected ten VANGUARD moments in this SlideShare presentation. Along with the smart business advice snippets, I’ve added in some audio commentary to explain why that moment is a VANGUARD moment. Click the play button to view the slides and hear my commentary. Enjoy...

AUDIO INSIDE | click the play button below

DISCLOSURE: I am a biased reviewer of anything Starbucks. Why? I worked there for eight years a marketer in the mid-90s and early 2000s. I wrote a book sharing some of the fundamental business and branding principles Starbucks followed to become an iconic brand. The consulting advice I pass along to businesses is steeped deep with my knowledge of how Starbucks became a beloved brand. I also know too many of the long-time Starbucks employees who were laid off during the bad times. My perspective is influenced because of my experience but my opinions are also shaped by now having an outsider’s view of Starbucks. (Also, while I receive many business books from publicists and publishers, I bought my copy of ONWARD.)

UPDATE: I received a free copy of ONWARD from a publicist. It has been donated to the Austin Public Library.

February 14, 2011

The Power of a Visual | Starbucks Trenta

Short. Tall. Grande. Venti. And now, Trenta. Starbucks is introducing a 31-ounce cold cup. It’s a ridiculously large size. However, Starbucks would be ridiculous if they didn’t take advantage of a profit-rich upsell opportunity. Right? Ultimately it’s customers who will decide whether or not this is a ridiculous success (or failure). I’m betting customers will decide this is a good thing.

To better understand just how HUGE the Trenta size is, Rob Cockerham has a powerful visual. No explanation is needed. This 40-second visual says everything...

Hat tip to @NealStewart

January 25, 2011

A Lesson on Scale and Compromise


Looks like the Starbucks Petri Dish experiment has ended for 15th Ave. Coffee & Tea. According to reports, Starbucks is returning/rebranding this location to become a Starbucks Coffee, again.

When 15th Ave. Coffee & Tea opened up in July 2009, I was quick to call it a one-off experiment for Starbucks to relearn some of the personal touches it lost due to making so many compromises in order to grow to over 16,000 locations in 50-plus countries around the world. (We’ve gone over all these compromises on past Starbucks postings so read-up if need be.)

One of the comments
in my post about this petri dish experiment didn't understand why Starbucks couldn't scale the 15th Ave. Coffee concept. My response was a short Lesson on Scale and Compromise...

DATE: July 2009
Why Starbucks can't scale its 15th Ave. Coffee & Tea concept...

my original comment:
Starbucks already scaled this [concept] into becoming the Starbucks we know today. Problem with scaling is COMPROMISE. Anytime a business “mass produces” something, compromises occur.

Think of a recipe for homemade cookies. This recipe yields two dozen of the most delicious cookies ever. Scale that recipe to yield 80,000 dozen cookies every day and lots changes. Industrial ovens replace the household oven used. Bulk ingredients replace hand-picked ingredients. Complex systematic procedures insure each cookie is the same diameter, the same weight, the same everything when scale happens. After enough compromises and changes take place from scaling, the taste of the cookie changes. It just doesn’t taste the same.

I bet McDonald’s used to make a very good hamburger. Not today. Scale happened.
I bet Quiznos used to make a very good sandwich. Not today. Scale happened.
I bet Taco Bell used to make a very good taco. Not today. Scale happened.

Very few companies retain its specialness after it decides to scale. At some point, too many compromises are made for the sake of growth and all those nuanced compromises, when added together, result in a product that no longer resembles the original intent. That’s exactly where Starbucks is today. Maybe 15th Ave. Coffee & Tea will teach Starbucks all the compromises they’ve made to grow have truly changed the original intent of the company.

October 24, 2010

The Starbucks Digital Network. Why Bother?


Earlier this year Starbucks made Internet access totally free in all its company-owned U.S. stores. Now, Starbucks has launched the online Starbucks Digital Network, available exclusively in its U.S. locations.

This network, according to a company press release, is "a collection of hand-picked premium news, entertainment and lifestyle content along with local insights and events. Developed for screens big and small, customers with Wi-Fi enabled laptops, tablets or smartphones can visit the network while in line or while enjoying their favorite beverage in the café."

To bring this digital network to life, Starbucks, along with Yahoo!, is working with lots of content partners including: Apple, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Rodale (health and wellness publisher), LinkedIn, Zagat, and SnagFilms. Essentially, this is a "walled garden" of online content that Starbucks and Yahoo! will tightly control.

Mark Walsh from MediaPost questions the sanity of Starbucks digital network strategy. Mark remarks, "My initial reaction to the Starbucks digital hub is 'why?' Isn't free WiFi enough of an incentive to bring in customers who might otherwise not come to Starbucks? The swelling laptop and netbook population in stores since the company switched to free Web access in July attests to that."

Agreed. Why bother?

Here's why according to Stephen Gillett, Starbucks executive vice president, chief information officer and Digital Ventures general manager...

"Our customers are the inspiration for the Starbucks Digital Network. They’ve told us they want to be the first to know what’s happening in their neighborhoods and around the globe, to have an easy way to discover new music, great books and important films and find ways to be more involved in their communities. And they’re connecting with the brand digitally in numerous ways. These points combined with our passion for creating a unique customer experience, our heritage of recommending culturally-relevant works and focus on giving back to the community, led us to create this new, one-of-a-kind, localized content experience with Yahoo!."

Disagreed. How bothersome.

Let's get real. Here's the real why bother.

If we put Stephen's words through a digitization monetization translation filter, we learn Starbucks has overcomplicated all of this because they are trying to make money from all of this. Starbucks has already done something uncomplicated to get customers to linger longer inside its stores — it made wi-fi access totally free. (The general assumption being if customers linger longer inside Starbucks using the free wi-fi, they will buy more goodies.)

Perhaps a more accurate quote from Stephen should read like this...

"Our ancillary need for profit is the inspiration for the Starbucks Digital Network. The analysts working on Wall Street have told us we need a systematic way to discover new revenue, great profit and important mechanisms to financially leverage our community of customers. We're monetizing our customers with our brand digitally in numerous ways. These points combined with our passion for creating a unique revenue stream, our heritage of being a relevant high-growth stock and focus on giving back to the Wall Street community, led us to create this new, one-of-a-kind, monetizable experience with Yahoo!"

We've been through this before.

Remember how Starbucks, in the early 2000s, spent too much of its time and talents trying to sell CDs, books, and movies to its customers? I remember. I also remember Starbucks selling real estate space inside its stores for drop boxes. We can go further back and dig up Starbucks failed dot-com strategy from 1999, which cost the company millions.

As it relates to the Starbucks Digital Network, rest assured, it is more about making money than fostering community.

Starbucks contends it is not charging program partners $$$ to be involved with its network available exclusively to tens of millions of its affluent customers. While money may not be changing hands, Starbucks is sure to have bartered receiving advertising placements inside the pages of their newspaper partners and display ads on the websites of all their program partners. Starbucks will also benefit financially from money its customers spend with any content provider while on the network.

All of this potential money making activity that's far outside Starbucks comfortable home of coffee troubles me today, just as it did in 2004 when Starbucks strayed from what it does best. Then, Geoffrey Moore, business strategist and venture capitalist, made a smart observation that applies today... "If Starbucks is just trying to find more ways to monetize the traffic that comes through, this is a bad idea. At some point the customers will start to feel abused."

I'm afraid Starbucks, with it's newly launched Starbucks Digital Network, is falling victim to a proven failed strategy of trying to monetize its customers in ways unrelated to coffee.

Why bother Starbucks? You already know how this will turn out.

October 13, 2010

TOUGH LOVE | Speed Kills

"Amid customer complaints that the Seattle-based coffee chain has reduced the fine art of coffee making to a mechanized process with all the romance of an assembly line, Starbucks baristas are being told to stop making multiple drinks at the same time and focus instead on no more than two drinks at a time." Wall Street Journal article (Oct. 13, 2010)

This conversation of balancing speed of service with soul of service isn't a new one for Starbucks.

It's territory we've covered here many times (and its territory covered in my TOUGH LOVE screenplay about the drama surrounding a fictitious Starbucks known as Galaxy Coffee).

Just a few years ago, Starbucks closed all its North American stores to retrain its Baristas on the "Art of Espresso" in hopes of finding a better speed/soul service balance. And today, the Wall Street Journal reports Starbucks is rolling out revised drink-making procedures designed to "make stores operate more efficiently."

Seems to me the issue here is less about being efficient and more about being effective in serving better tasting drinks to customers.

Former Starbucks President Jim Alling once said, "As much as we want to meet people's desire to produce beverages quickly, we also realize that people want a smile with their drink, that they don't want to feel rushed."

If there is one lesson Starbucks has learned in its nearly 40-years of being in business, it's taste will always trump speed. Starbucks customers are paying a higher-price for a higher-quality coffee experience than can be found at a quick service restaurant (McDonald's, Dunkin Donuts, etc.) People will wait for a better-tasting cup of coffee.


July 06, 2010

TOUGH LOVE | Harvard Business Review connection

I recently read the Howard Schultz interview in the July/August issue of the Harvard Business Review. The interview details the drive, decline, and resurrection of Starbucks. It’s an informative read that touches upon many business themes dramatized in my TOUGH LOVE screenplay about “Galaxy Coffee.”

Interesting quotes from Howard Schultz and TOUGH LOVE correlations include:

“Being the CEO of a public company over the past couple of years has been difficult. And lonely.” — Howard Schultz

David Pearl, the fictitious CEO of Galaxy Coffee, experienced the same difficult feelings of loneliness as he fought to reverse the decline of Galaxy. To help overcome those feelings of loneliness and self-doubt, David, during a few pivotal scenes, recites a saying his father instilled in him as a child, “Get up. Head up. Never give up.”

“The issues of social media, digital media, and getting smart about the rules of engagement emerged as a tremendous weakness for the company.” — Howard Schultz

Similar to Starbucks, Galaxy Coffee wasn’t smart about social media. Internal memos and videos were leaked and used by detractors to belittle the company. On numerous occasions, a Galaxy Coffee Public Relations Executive failed to properly coach David Pearl on the new rules of engagement when talking to the media about the company. The result was Galaxy’s reputation suffered greatly and the company was positioned as being out-of-touch.

“Everything we did more or less worked. And that produced a level of hubris that caused us to overlook what was coming.” — Howard Schultz

Galaxy suffered the same fate of egotism and neglect. The company never knew losing and when the losses started to mount, Galaxy didn’t know how to react. Worse yet, because of hubris, Galaxy didn’t realize how disconnected the company had become with its customers and employees. Ultimately, egotism led to the decline of Galaxy Coffee. (What exactly happens to Galaxy Coffee? Gotta read the TOUGH LOVE screenplay to find out.)

“The marketplace was saying, ‘Starbucks needs to undo all these company-owned stores and franchise the system.’ That would have given us a war chest and significantly increased return on capital. It’s a good argument economically. It’s a good argument for shareholder value.” — Howard Schultz

This is exactly the argument made by activist investor Conner Langley as he amassed Galaxy stock in hopes of gaining a position on the Galaxy Board of Directors. The “Langley Plan” called for turning 1,500 Galaxy locations into franchised stores. In the end, Galaxy’s Board of Directors decided not to pursue the “Langley Plan.” Instead, Galaxy went in a different direction, which increased shareholder value much more substantially and quickly. (I can’t reveal the specific direction Galaxy chose because that would spoil the TOUGH LOVE story for you.)

June 28, 2010

Pathetic Starbucks Promo Poster

In my TOUGH LOVE ebook, it’s not hard to figure out that “Galaxy Coffee” is Starbucks Coffee. So when the screenplay depicts the drive, drama, and decline of Galaxy, it’s really business commentary on the goings-on with Starbucks.

There’s a scene in TOUGH LOVE where the Galaxy CEO, David Pearl, criticizes his executive team for all their shortsighted and “off-brand” marketing ideas to kick-start sales. In his badgering, David implores the executives to “never communicate like a fast food company.”

If David Pearl were the CEO of Starbucks Coffee and not of the fictitious Galaxy Coffee, this pathetic Starbucks promo poster would rankle him.


This promo poster for mini donuts has no soul ... no emotion ... no style ... no creativity. And, it has no business being inside a Starbucks.

A soulless generic poster fits inside a run down gas station or perhaps a mom and pop Gyro shop, but not inside a Starbucks. That's my TOUGH LOVE for today.

June 23, 2010

TOUGH LOVE | a Business Book screenplay


My new business book is now published. It’s an ebook called, TOUGH LOVE: Scripting the Drive, Drama, and Decline of Galaxy Coffee.

Wait. It’s not really a book and its more than an ebook. TOUGH LOVE is actually a screenplay masquerading as a business book.

TOUGH LOVE reads just like a Hollywood screenplay with standard script format, seven main characters, and two plot lines that tell the story of how a rags-to-riches entrepreneur finds success building a company (Galaxy Coffee) to be bigger only to realize, the hard way, that smaller is better. Inserted throughout the TOUGH LOVE script are breakout business lessons and thought-provoking business advice geared towards entrepreneurs and small business owners.

It’s available as a .pdf download from ChangeThis ... click below to purchase.


You can learn more at; including a synopsis, character sketches, and an informative Q&A.

May 15, 2010

SBC = Seattle’s Brand Confusion

Seattle’s Best Coffee (SBC) was purchased by Starbucks Coffee seven years ago. Starbucks hasn’t done much with it except to ink distribution deals with Borders and few fast food companies.

On May 12, SBC launched a “brand reinvention” project. A new logo was revealed, a Facebook page was launched, and a very confusing tagline was unleashed, “The next big thing from Starbucks, isn’t Starbucks.”

Paul Williams, former long-time Starbucks marketer, shares his smart take on the confusing brand reinvention of Seattle’s Best Coffee. Give it a read.

And give this beyond confusing video a look. It’s on YouTube and the description only helps to amplify confusion...

Wait? Does SBC seriously think they can replace Starbucks as the universal symbol for great coffee?

There are so many more confusing elements... just watch the video and read Paul’s post on what went wrong and what should have gone right.

January 26, 2010

Tough Love For Starbucks

It’s been almost two years since Starbucks jumped into the deep waters of social media with their program. This is a website where customers submit and discuss ideas on ways Starbucks can improve its business.

Over 80,000 ideas have been submitted and late last year, Starbucks informed us over 50 ideas from customers have been implemented. Cool. Sounds great. Sounds impactful.

But wait, let’s take a closer look at these customer-driven ideas Starbucks has "implemented."


Of the 53 ideas Starbucks has "implemented," my closer look reveals only a handful of ideas, SIX to be exact, can be truly credited to customers. Many ideas Starbucks claims to have implemented from customers are either recycled products/programs Starbucks has done in the past or were clearly in the pipeline long before the customer idea was submitted.

For example, Starbucks credits a customer idea for the Splash Sticks (#1 on the list) they offer customers to help ensure coffee doesn’t spill out of the plastic lid. Reality is this idea was being done in Japan months before its introduction into the North American market. It’s not a customer-generated idea because this idea was already in the Starbucks product pipeline.

Starbucks also takes credit for responding to customer ideas for Free Wi-Fi access (#3). Not true. Wi-fi access at Starbucks isn’t free. There are hoops customers must jump through to get two-hours of free wi-fi a day at Starbucks. First hoop is to have a Starbucks Card. Second hoop is a minimum balance must be kept on the card. Third hoop is the card must have been used within 30-days. Then and only then can a Starbucks customer get “free” wi-fi. It’s fine for Starbucks to put restrictions on wi-fi access. It’s not fine to claim it listened to customers and now offers free wi-fi. It ain’t free if you have to jump through hoops and spend money.

Starbucks takes credit for selling Reusable Cold Cups (#7, #30) because of a customer submitted idea. Hard to give credit to the customer idea for something that has long been part of the Starbucks merchandise mix. Starbucks has sold Cold Cups for years in all sorts of styles, colors, etc. They’re called Travel Tumblers and these cups can keep cold coffee cold and hot coffee hot.

Same goes for giving credit to a customer idea spurring Starbucks to sell Venti-sized Travel Tumblers (#25, #53). Starbucks has sold such a product for over a decade.

Starbucks also claims to have responded to the customer idea of bringing back Chantico Drinking Chocolate (#15). Try ordering Chantico today at Starbucks and all you’ll get are blank stares because Starbucks doesn’t sell drinking chocolate. What Starbucks has done is reformulated its hot chocolate beverage to contain more dark chocolate. The company can’t take credit for bringing back Chantico when all it did was reformulate its hot cocoa recipe.

The most popular customer-generated idea is to offer “Great Conversations” (#14) by promoting community to foster in-store discussions between customers at Starbucks. Nice idea. Starbucks takes credit for implementing this idea by offering the GOOD Sheet. The GOOD Sheet you ask? It’s a pamphlet from the publishers of GOOD magazine discussing issues of cultural and societal importance. Good luck finding it at Starbucks these days, it might be discontinued, and better luck experiencing lively discussions between customers about the GOOD Sheet.

Starbucks has responded to the customer ideas for offering healthier pastries which include: More Whole Grains (#8), Increase Healthy Options (#37), Gluten-Free Packaged Food (#27), Healthy High Protein Breakfast (#9), Gluten-Free Options (#10), and Vegan Options (#11). Notice any redundancies in the ideas? Of these six implemented ideas, I’ll credit Starbucks for implementing three of them (Increase Healthy Options, Gluten-Free Options, and High Protein Breakfast).

Furthermore, of the 53 ideas "implemented," Starbucks takes credit for the ideas from Starbucks partners (employees) submissions. (Starbucks has an intra-company version of the MyStarbucksIdea website for partner submitted ideas.) Many of these ideas from store partners are worthwhile, but almost none of them impact the customer experience. Electronic Pay Stubs (#2), Discounted Work Wear (#6), and Employee Discount at (#13) are some of these worthwhile ideas that have no impact on the customer experience. Because they have no impact from a customer perspective, Starbucks shouldn’t include these ideas in their tally.

If we delete the customer ideas Starbucks already had in motion, the ideas Starbucks incorrectly takes credit for implementing, and the employee ideas ... then we are left with only SIX ideas implemented. And of these SIX ideas, none can be considered as having significant impact on the Starbucks business.

1. Increase Healthy Options (#37)
2. Gluten-Free Options (#10)
3. High Protein Breakfast (#9)
4. Free Coffee On Your Birthday (#19)
5. Bring Back Yukon Blend (#39)
6. Shipping to Military addresses ( (#45)

My tough love for Starbucks is this: Don’t declare you’re going to be a different kind of company by getting customer input when you aren’t going to use it. It’s cheating to match programs/products you already have in the pipeline with the ideas submitted by customers. It’s also cheating to declare you’ve implemented customer ideas when clearly, you haven’t. Starbucks is too smart a company to cheat. So don’t.

December 11, 2009

Bryant Simon on Starbucks | part 3

We conclude our short series highlighting Bryant Simon’s book, in EVERYTHING BUT THE COFFEE: Learning about America from Starbucks (University of California Press, 2009).

Bryant writes how early on in his research he was supportive of Starbucks against its detractors complaining of Starbucks bigness and sameness. However, his attitude changed. He calls it his “Rwandan moment.”

In an email exchange, I asked Bryant what happened during his “Rwandan moment” causing him to go from being sympathetic to Starbucks to somewhat critical of Starbucks. He replied...

BRYANT SIMON: Before I started my research, I found Starbucks to be an interesting place, most notably a potentially important public gathering spot in suburbanizing America. But the deeper I dug into the company’s history and charted its actions and located it within the context of the changes in American society, the more skeptical I became about the promises it made. My patience with the company snapped when I learned about its behavior (both the promises it made and its deeper indifference to what was actually going on) in Rwanda.

Rwanda, as most people know, has had a mean and bloody past. Ethnic violence in the mid-1990s cost the nation, a former colony with a woefully underdeveloped economy and infrastructure, hundreds of thousands of lives. By 2000, the country was trying to get back on its feet and the coffee industry had the potential to help it and some of its farmers recover. Starbucks, it turned out, played on this history and this guilt – a western guilt over doing nothing to stop the killing – to sell some pricey coffee and make itself look better.

In 2005, Starbucks introduced Rwanda Blue Bourbon with its “subtle acidity” and “herbal, spice, and cocoa notes” as one of its “Black Apron Exclusives” – the designation it uses for its highest-end, most expensive specialty coffees. “Taste a special coffee,” an in-store sign maintained, “that’s helping transform farmers lives.” “A Promising Future in Every Pound,” a company press release announced to mark the introduction of Rwanda Blue Bourbon. “Following the devastating events of 1994“ – a store sign proclaimed and this was all it said about the country’s troubling past – “this new cash crop (coffee) has given Rwandan farmers hope for a better future and helped them afford better education, medicine, and housing.”

These signs – again promises – got me interested in what Starbucks was actually doing in Rwanda. I asked around a bit and found out that while Starbucks charged $22/per pound for its coffee, it wasn’t paying any more at origin than other roasters buying Rwandan beans from small growers and charging consumers far less. Starbucks, moreover, wasn’t buying its bean from co-ops or small farmers, at least not directly. “These are plantation beans,” one source who knew something about the Rwandan coffee industry commented when I asked him about Starbucks purchases. When I asked him what he meant by this, he curtly answered, “I meant what I said.” Starbucks was buying beans from large shareholders, not small farmers, from powerful landowners with, in many cases, ties to old colonial authorities, not from the victims of the ethnic cleaning campaigns that ripped the country apart.

But the Starbucks’ promises, again, made it seem like it was helping the least fortunate (not lining the pockets of people who never stopped getting decent educations, adequate health care, and spacious accommodations.)

So this was my Rwandan moment. To me, this was just too much. Manipulating the Rwandan tragedy to make money seemed totally out of bounds and nearly unethical. But even more, it demonstrated to me the utter ordinariness of Starbucks. It wasn’t that the company was exceptionally nefarious or greedy; it was that the company just like any other company, was willing to do just about anything and say just about anything to move product.

December 10, 2009

Bryant Simon on Starbucks | part 2

We continue our short series highlighting Bryant Simon’s book, EVERYTHING BUT THE COFFEE: Learning about America from Starbucks (University of California Press, 2009).

In the book, Bryant takes a look at Starbucks from all angles including its impact on the environment, cultural society, consumerism, and globalization matters. At one point he writes, “... it became clear that Starbucks fulfilled its many promises only in the thinnest, most transitory of ways and that people’s desires went largely unfulfilled.”

I asked Bryant Simon, in an email exchange, to give specific examples how Starbucks thinly fulfills its promises to customers. Here's his reply:

BRYANT SIMON: Many branders, following the lead of Joseph Pine and James Gilmore, argue that higher-end consumers are looking for experiences and wiling to pay extra to get them. I think about this idea in a slightly different way. I think we pay a premium to get the things that are missing in our lives – experience being just one of them (and I write about this in the chapter in my book on music and the feeling of discovery, both real and vicarious that Starbucks sells.) Back to my point, so I think that people increasingly buy to fulfill their desires or get a hold of the things that are missing in their lives.

But there is another dynamic at work here.

As other social forces – neighborhoods, community, unions, and politics – seem to recede, brands have stepped into our lives to offer more of the things that matter most to us – everything from authenticity to work spaces to belonging to social justice. Really, then brands sell promises – promises to fulfill our needs and desires. Yet, often they deliver only an illusion of what we need and want, some vapory facsimile that looks like the real thing, but usually isn’t even close.

Few companies, in what we might call the “promise economy,” sell more -- e.g. promise more – than Starbucks. But again, the company doesn’t always deliver on its promises.

Take the promise of Third Place. Starbucks has borrowed – expropriated -- this phrase from the sociologist Ray Oldenburg. Oldenburg calls these locations real – not virtual -- sites between work and home where people can gather. Starbucks serves this role, but back to the question, in only the thinnest, most ephemeral of ways.

To Oldenburg, third places are social setting where strangers meet and forge the bonds of community. Once they trust each other, they go on to discuss matters of crucial import to the community. Talk is essential for these places to genuinely work. But that isn’t really what happens at Starbucks. People come to Starbucks to get a moment of respite or to meet with colleagues, but rarely do they engage in the kinds of community discussions needed to bolster civic life. So what they get at Starbucks, is a busy, chatty looking place that looks like a third place, but isn’t really a third place. Kind of like those cup quotes.

Remember when Starbucks tattooed its cups with quotes? They were there the company said to encourage conversation and community, but they didn’t say much that could get anyone to actually talk or engage with others. Who isn’t in favor of finding love, the rainbow of colors, and the innocence of kids playing baseball? When the cups did incite a little controversy, Starbucks pulled the offending cups. That’s not free speech, and free speech is key to Third Places and to community. Just ask Ray Oldenburg.

Same with the environment. Starbucks knows that a growing core of its customer base cares deeply about green issues, so it promises to do its part (and allow them to think they have done their part). On every Starbucks cup, it reads right under the quotes, “Help us, help the planet.”

Sure, Starbucks has done some great stuff to limit its carbon footprint and utilize solar energy sources, but it doesn’t really help the environment, it actually leaves it in worse shape after each latte purchase. By not pushing in-store ceramic cups or reusable tumblers, Starbucks encourages takeaway, throwaway consumption. Every time we walk out the door with a paper cup, java jacket, and plastic lid (and perhaps a green plastic splash stick), we are – and so is Starbucks – creating trash (and all of the energy and oil needed top produce these additional cups and lids and then cart them off to the landfill where the take up place and slowly rot, but not be they get covered up by another bag of coffee house rubbish.)

These are two examples of promises that Starbucks makes – because the ideas they promise have value to their customers and add value to their products – but doesn’t entirely fulfill. And this is one of the avenues of inquiry I explore in my book. I look hard at what Starbucks sells and what it actually delivers.

More to come on Friday.

December 09, 2009

Bryant Simon on Starbucks | part 1

I first met Bryant Simon in 2006. At that time, he was in the early stages of researching Starbucks impact on culture and consumerism. We traded emails about nuanced Starbucks happenings from store-level operations to broader marketing matters. He was curious to learn the rationale behind a lot of the decisions he was experiencing in Starbucks stores. As a former Starbucks marketer known for sharing tribal knowledge about the company, I enjoyed my email threads with him and my face time with him when he visited Austin in 2007.

Since he’s a history professor at Temple University, Bryant comes at the Starbucks story from a unique angle. He uses this unique perspective to make interesting observations about Starbucks.

After a few years of research and thousands of hours spent observing Starbucks from hundreds of its stores, Bryant Simon has released his observations on Starbucks in EVERYTHING BUT THE COFFEE: Learning about America from Starbucks (University of California Press, 2009).

It’s a worthwhile read. We’ll be sharing Bryant’s take on Starbucks impact on culture and consumption over the next three days.

We begin with a highly condensed verbatim abstract of chapter two in his book. This chapter is titled, “Predictability the Individual Way.”

Bryant Simon writes ...

“Built for the postneed, status-seeking, civically challenged world, Starbucks offered an important variation on McDonald’s-style, branded predictability, sameness and comfort are certainly important for highly mobile yuppies, bobos, and creative class types.” (pg. 60)

“Predictability doesn’t just happen. Starbucks works hard to stage this easily consumed familiarity, starting with the coffee itself. Reluctant to franchise, Starbucks owns most of its outlets.” (pg. 65)

“Starbucks baristas also tend to look alike—usually smiling and usually young. This, too, is no accident. As thick as a chemistry textbook, the Starbucks employee manual leaves little to chance. It provides workers with a script outlining exactly what they should say and the tone they should strike. It spells out what they can and can’t wear and what they can’t show of themselves.” (pg. 66)

“Making every Starbucks look familiar and feel safe requires heavy doses of policing, employee disciplining, and systemization. In other words, as McDonald’s expert George Ritzer suggests, it requires that Starbucks stores operate like McDonald’s franchisees. Indeed, as Starbucks grew, it became more like McDonald’s every day, turning consumption, work, and management into a series of predictable centrally controlled routines.” (pg. 71)

“There is a tipping point here, however. Too much sameness alarms rather than reassures, many bobos and creative class types; it cuts into their sense of individuality.” (pg. 76)

“In one last twist on the themes of sameness and placelessness, authenticity and consumer desire, Starbucks, in some ways, has begun to consume itself.” (pg. 81)

More to come on Thursday and Friday.

November 06, 2009

No More Starbucks Gold

Lots of chatter online about the revamped Starbucks “rewards” program. Starbucks will discontinue its Gold Card program it began a year ago. The Starbucks Gold Card program was designed like many membership rewards program where customers pay a yearly $25 fee and in return they receive free refills on brewed coffee, free wi-fi access, and 10% off on all purchases.

Beginning December 26, Starbucks will replace its Gold Card program with a "My Starbucks Rewards" program offering customers a free beverage after 15 purchases. (There are a few other small perks in this program but it's essentially a Buy 15 Drinks, Get 1 Free program.)

Starbucks is touting its new rewards program as an improvement because of its simpler design and the no annual fee.

However, the consensus from the online chatter is this new program benefits less frequent Starbucks customers (2-to-3 visits a month) than the very frequent Starbucks customer (8+ visits a month).

Obviously the redesign of this program will benefit Starbucks more financially. Perhaps offering a 10% discount to Gold Card members on all purchases was profiting heavy-spending customers more than it was profiting revenue-needing Starbucks.

Whenever I read about new Starbucks business happenings, I refer back to the book I wrote about Starbucks foundational business practices. In TRIBAL KNOWLEDGE, there’s a short section on fostering customer devotion where I give the old school Starbucks perspective on “Preferred Shopper” loyalty schemes, such as a Starbucks Gold Card program or the new My Starbucks Rewards program...

“These ‘Preferred Shopper’ promotions also reverse the logic of great customer service: they ask customers to sign up for a card or buy a certain amount of product before they can enjoy the benefits of being part of the club. Do you really want to create two classes of customers? One that gets the ‘good stuff’ at a good price, the other that gets a raw deal? If you want to foster true customer devotion, don’t make your customers jump through hoops just to feel welcome, or 'preferred.'

Businesses operating like this treat their customers like cattle, doing whatever they can to attract attention. When companies are more focused on their own bottom line than their customers, both will eventually fall away. These programs lack soul and meaning to stand the test of time.”

The last paragraph in this chapter shares a thought more businesses, especially Starbucks today, need to pay attention to:

“Customer loyalty works both ways, and Starbucks knows that. Of course Starbucks wants to maintain its profitability, but it does this by helping the folks who come into its stores, not by working against them. If you want customers to stay loyal to you, stay loyal to your customers—treat them as people, help them as individuals, offer them something extra, and they’ll come back for more.”

You can read the full chapter, TRIBAL TRUTH #28: Foster Customer Devotion, in the box below:

Foster Customer Devotion

October 09, 2009

My Starbucks Story videos

Starbucks is asking its partners (employees) to make short videos about their day-to-day life at Starbucks. Love it. The company will share these videos online at Again, love it.

Early in 2008 Starbucks did a two-minute documentary on Young Han, a Starbucks barista, talking about his “Got Milk” photo shoot and his appreciation for the Starbucks Coffee Company. The video was posted on YouTube for everyone to see. (However, the video is no longer available.)

In a post from Feb. 2008 I mentioned how this video "works great as a recruitment video. Not slick. Not scripted. Just genuine moments and reflections..."  I also mentioned how Starbucks should STRONGLY CONSIDER encouraging its young and talented workforce to post videos of why they feel a connection to Starbucks similar to the brilliant Deloitte & Touche Film Fest idea.

More ideas from Starbucks empowering its talented workforce to showcase personality will go a long way in not just helping recruiting new employees but also in recruiting some lost customers to believe in the company again.

July 25, 2009

Starbucks Petri Dish: 15th Ave. Coffee & Tea

A Starbucks location once destined for closure has re-emerged as 15th Ave. Coffee & Tea. No Starbucks logo. No venti-sized cups. No sassy promotional signage. No automated espresso machines. The location is designed to look, feel, and act not like a Starbucks, but rather a one-off local boutique coffee shop.


On the surface, it appears to be an odd move. Why spend so many years building a global brand only to reject most everything about it? The answer … TO LEARN.

This is clearly an experiment, a four-wall enclosed retail petri dish. It’s a way for Starbucks to RE-learn some of the personal touches it has lost due to making so many compromises in order to grow to over 16,000 locations in 40-plus countries around the world. (We’ve gone over all these compromises on past Starbucks postings so read-up if need be.)

Some of these re-learning opportunities include:

Coffee served at 15th Ave. Coffee & Tea is roasted in small batches and brewed within days of roasting. (Coffee served at Starbucks is roasted in mega-huge industrial machines and could be months before it is brewed in-store.)

Espresso served at 15th Ave. Coffee & Tea is drawn from a classic La Marzocco machine and baristas will add latte art flair to drinks. (Starbucks uses automated espresso machines and baristas are too busy to add latte art touches to espresso drinks.)

Passion for coffee oozes at 15th Ave. Coffee & Tea. Limited-edition roasts are served through single-serving low-tech brewers (pour-over, press pots) or a high-tech brewer (Clover). (Starbucks uses large-scale brewers to mass brew gallons at a time.)

Pastries served at 15th Ave. Coffee & Tea are from a local bakery. Baked daily and delivered daily. (Starbucks sells lots of “thaw and serve” pastries baked in far-off places that are then frozen, packed, and shipped to stores for serving days later.)

Ambiance at 15th Ave. Coffee & Tea will be warm, welcoming, eclectic, and subtle. (Ambiance at nearly every Starbucks is uniformly clean, cold, and sterile.)

15th Ave. Coffee & Tea is not a growth vehicle for Starbucks. Can’t be. It’s too expensive and time-intensive to scale. It can only be viewed as a learning opportunity for Starbucks.

Perhaps some of the learnings on how to add personal touches will find its way back into the Starbucks experience thanks to the company’s petri dish known as 15th Ave. Coffee & Tea.

February 17, 2009

Re: Starbucks VIA


By now you’ve heard Starbucks is introducing an instant coffee product. It’s a just add water and stir packet called VIA. Okay. Fine. That’s cool. Starbucks has long-dabbled with concentrated instant coffee.

For the past ten years, the Frappuccino ice-blended drinks you’ve been enjoying have been made using a powdered coffee concentrate. And the bottled Frappuccino drink from Pepsi uses concentrated coffee as its base. So concentrated instant coffee isn’t new for Starbucks.

What is new … is how Starbucks is positioning this product. Howard Schultz, Starbucks ceo and chairman, is talking about how VIA will "disrupt and reinvent the instant coffee category."

That’s right, "disrupt and reinvent the instant coffee category."

Hmm … priorities seem to be misplaced.

Shouldn’t Starbucks be more concerned with disrupting and reinventing their core retail business and not the instant coffee category?

Lack of rejuvenating their core retail business has resulted in closing nearly 1,000 locations, the loss of almost 6,000 jobs, and the marginalization of the Starbucks brand.

Selling instant coffee isn’t an instant fix to solving Starbucks problems. It’s a distraction, not a solution.

February 05, 2009

Dunkin's Snide Snipe at Starbucks

Excuse the multiple coffee-related postings today. Last one for a long time. I promise.

In a cost-saving move, Starbucks no longer requires its stores to have brewed Decaf coffee ready-to-serve after 12 noon. (You can read all the hubbub on StarbucksGossip here and here.)

Dunkin' Donuts is again sniping at Starbucks. This time, Dunkin' is chiding Starbucks for its cost-savings Decaf decision with a creative print ad that includes this brilliant line, "We don't work around our schedule, we work around yours."

(Ouch, Starbucks. Ouch.)

Kudos to AdFreak for the hook-up.

Riffing on a MarketingProfs Post

Writing for the MarketingProfs blog, Ted Mininni posted his take on a recent McDonald’s ad for their McCafe coffee drinks. His post begins …

”Score one for McDonald’s... at the expense of Starbucks and all of the other high-brow coffee shops peddling pricey lattes, cappuccino, espresso and all manner of caffeinated concoctions.”

His post continues by declaring pretentious coffee is out and affordable coffee is in. Right on, I agree with his point given today’s dismal economy.

The comments to his post are lively and run wild. Definitely worth reading.

In the comments, Ted mentions how “Eight O'Clock beat out Starbucks. Go figure.” This triggered a long-dormant thought that is no longer dormant. Read below for my comment to Ted on this.

Ted … I gotta chime in again. You mentioned how 8 o’Clock Coffee beat Starbucks Coffee on taste. True. And Dunkin’ Donuts is touting the taste of its coffee is preferred over Starbucks. Yep. Got it.

Starbucks has never fared well in taste tests. That’s because the taste of Starbucks coffee is too polarizing. Many people say Starbucks coffee tastes too bitter, too burnt, too bold. Starbucks has always had a strong point-of-view about what coffee should taste like. That strong point-of-view about coffee has helped to build its brand.

In the book PURPLE COW, Seth Godin smartly writes … “In almost every market, the boring slot is filled. The product designed to appeal to the largest possible audience already exists, and displacing it is awfully difficult. The real growth comes with products that annoy, offend, don't appeal, are too expensive, too cheap, too heavy, too complicated, too simple — too something."

8 o’Clock Coffee makes boring coffee. Boring coffee is not going to annoy, nor will it offend people. Conversely, non-boring coffee will annoy and offend people. 8 o’Clock Coffee has never been a growth brand. Starbucks, with its non-boring taste profile, has been a growth brand. HAS BEEN, being emphasized.

I offer up that Starbucks has been slouching towards boring coffee for years. The biggest coffee push from the company recently has been behind Pike Place Roast. This is a mild coffee meant to appeal to the masses, which means it’s meant to be boring. Problem is, the Starbucks brand was built on strong, polarizing coffee … not boring coffee.

As Starbucks has grown to over 16,000 locations worldwide, it has tried to tone down its strong point-of-view on coffee in order to appeal to even more people. In my opinion, that’s hurt more than it has helped.

The company has abandoned its strong point-of-view about how “good” coffee should taste. This abandonment has wrecked havoc on its brand. In its attempt to appeal to everyone, Starbucks has lost those someones who enjoyed a coffee taste profile that isn’t watered down to a milder, more palatable and less offending taste.

Back in the day, the coffee Starbucks served earned an opinion from people because it wasn’t boring. These days, the company serves boring coffee (Pike Place Roast) and it no longer has a strong point of view about how good coffee should taste.

It’s my take … focusing on boring coffee has, more than the dismal economy, positioned Starbucks for the steep decline its experiencing.

January 29, 2009

Provocative Starbucks Commentary

Following the recent Starbucks news of more store closures, more layoffs, and more meandering into convoluted sales initiatives, Kevin Coupe says Howard Schultz must go. His argument breaks down the issues with Howard’s near-sighted business vision. It’s provocative and worthy of reading. Here's a snippet...

"It is my sense that Starbucks has lost its way, and that blaming the economic downturn misses the point. After all, great brands and great thought leaders find ways to transcend these kinds of challenges, profound as they may be. They find ways to reinforce the differential advantages of the brand, and to see the challenges and opportunities for strategic innovation.

Since Schultz took back the reins of the company a year ago, it has seemed like management has embarked on a series of tactical decisions designed for short-term fixes rather than long-term growth

This is not a diatribe against Howard Schultz. He should be lauded for his vision and service to the company. He should be praised for the fact that he was willing to give up his million-dollar-plus salary and work for a dollar a year while getting the company back on track. But it is time for a change, to someone who can think and act strategically rather than tactically." ***READ MORE***

[hat tip to Paul Williams]

November 14, 2008

A Worthy Rant from Paul Williams

Starbucks Has Nothing To Lose - Freakin’ Go For It!

Attaboy Paul!

November 07, 2008

What if Starbucks Marketed like a Church?

This blog has received lots of links from progressive-minded churches wanting to improve their marketing. It's my turn to reciprocate.

Just as churches can learn something from business marketers, business marketers can learn something from churches. Churches do things to turn off potential Christ-followers. And businesses do things to turn off potential customers.

In this video parable, the Beyond Relevance blog shares how churches subtly construct barriers to making new attendees feel welcome. Enjoy and learn ...

RSS Readers ... click here to watch the video.

** Kudos to Danny Franks for the heads-up.

October 28, 2008

Better Billboard. Fresher

In July, I ranted about how there isn’t a faster way to commoditizing a brand than using unemotional and uncreative language. The example I used was Starbucks and this billboard:


I wasn’t knocking the billboard tactic as OOH advertising can be used effectively. I was knocking the fast food mentality of the copy used in the billboard.

Communicating a new and improved position is totally of the fast food mindset. And, to feel the need to say BETTER COFFEE is off-putting to me. (Shouldn't the Starbucks cup automatically convey Better Coffee? After all, the "Better Coffee" angle should be the culmination of everything Starbucks has strived to communicate to customers since its inception.)

The other week I noticed a new Starbucks billboard execution going eastbound to the Austin airport. It’s being used as a directional guide to support a just-opened Starbucks location nearby.


Kudos. The language/tone isn’t unemotional and uncreative. It’s (somewhat) interesting and functional. In other words … Better Billboard. Fresher. A marked improvement.

August 05, 2008

Two Buck ‘Bucks

SOURCE: Associated Press article
Starbucks offers afternoon drink deal nationwide

Looking to bring more value-seeking consumers through its doors for a late afternoon caffeine fix, Starbucks Corp. said it will now offer its morning customers any iced grande beverage for $2 after 2 p.m.

The price is a big cut from the normal price of most grande-sized iced drinks. A grande iced latte, for example, costs about $4. To get the discount, customers must present a receipt from their morning Starbucks visit.

"I think we've kind of hit the nail on the head," said Brad Stevens, vice president of customer relationship management. "It's easy for baristas to implement and it's easy for customers to understand."

Sadly, this is yet another decision the company has made which has “… lead to the watering down of the Starbucks experience, and, what some might call the commoditization of our brand." [SOURCE]

As marketers, we know PRICING TELLS A STORY. All high-priced products must deliver an interesting story to justify its higher price. On the other end, low-priced products settle for telling an uninteresting story, beyond simply getting goods on the cheap.

Reading in-between the lines I’m picking up on something even more alarming than the company’s decision to become a priced-to-sell retailer. I’m picking up on a cataclysmic shift in company culture.

Re-read the quote from Brad Stevens. He says the Two Buck ‘Bucks promotion “is easy” for employees to implement and for customers to understand. True. HOWEVER, the Starbucks we’ve come to appreciate developing a relationship with never did anything “easy.”

The Starbucks company culture has never been about doing things the easy way.

The easy way is to size drinks Small, Medium, Large, and Extra-Large.
The easy way is to roast coffee less for a mass appeal taste profile.
The easy way is to have lucy-goosey espresso making standards.
The easy way is to not offer part-time employees full benefits.
The easy way is to treat customers as just a transaction.
The easy way is to compete on low prices.

The hard way is to size drinks Short, Tall, Grande, and Venti.
The hard way is to roast coffee longer for a more polarizing taste profile.
The hard way is to have strict espresso making standards.
The hard way is to offer every employee full benefits.
The hard way is to have employees build relationships with customers.
The hard way is to compete on high prices.

If we wanted “easy,” we would have never interrupted our old daily ritual to make Starbucks part of our new daily ritual. If Starbucks had always done things the EASY WAY, they wouldn’t have changed the game for how to build an endearing and enduring brand.

As for the decision to compete on low prices to drive traffic in the afternoon daypart with Treat Receipts … I’m troubled by this. Just as I was troubled when the company experimented earlier this year with selling a One-Dollar Cup o’ Joe.

July 24, 2008

Architects Envision the Next Starbucks

Consider peeping the July issue of ARCHITECT magazine. The magazine asked five architect design firms to envision the rebirth of Starbucks. Interesting results ... lots of daydreaming esoteric fodder for design-types. The regular marketing-type in me likes the Modular Community Kitchen design from Studios Architecture.

CLICK HERE to review all five rebirthing Starbucks design ideas.

July 21, 2008

Now that it is going away, we’re devastated.

As many of you know, I will occasionally ask if you would miss a specific company if it went out-of-business tomorrow. (It’s part of my Would You Miss series inspired by the book, MAVERICKS AT WORK.) The question is totally hypothetical, but the answers you’ve given are highly emotional.

This “Would You Miss” question is a great one to ask of any business because it tells us how well we have formed relationships with our customers. If a business has formed unfailing relationships with its customers, then customers would truly care if that company went out of business. On the other hand, if a business hasn’t formed meaningful bonds with customers, then customers wouldn’t care if that business ceased to exist.

With the recent announcement of Starbucks Coffee closing 600 under-performing locations, we get to witness this “Would You Miss” question in action. If the website is any indication, lots of people will miss Starbucks when their location is closed.

Now that Starbucks Corp. has disclosed the 600 locations it wants to shutter, a phenomenon is taking hold: the Save Our Starbucks campaign.

In towns as small as Bloomfield, N.M., and metropolises as large as New York, customers and city officials are starting to write letters, place phone calls, circulate petitions and otherwise plead with the coffee company to change its mind.

"Now that it's going away, we're devastated," said Kate Walker, a facilities manager for software company SunGard Financial Systems who recently learned of a store closing in New York City. [SOURCE: Wall Street Journal article]

Wow! “Now that it is going away, we’re devastated.” That’s the best thing a company could hope to hear from customers when it is dealing with severe business issues. Hmm ... would your customers be DEVASTATED if your business closed up shop?

July 16, 2008

Better Coffee. Faster. ** NEVER **

I’m not as unsettled about Starbucks selling smoothies as I am about Starbucks approving this billboard:

LOCATION: Northbound & Southbound on I-35 (near Temple, TX)

Sadly, this is another decision the company has made which has “… lead to the watering down of the Starbucks experience, and, what some might call the commoditization of our brand." [SOURCE]

As marketers, we know there is not a faster, better, or cheaper route to commoditizing a brand than using unemotional language like: Faster … Better … Cheaper.

Back in the day, Starbucks marketers were coached to: (1) NEVER communicate like a fast food company; (2) NEVER convey a new and improved mindset; and (3) NEVER allow a tactic to take priority over the company’s heritage and personality.

Today is a different day. However, if Starbucks is to truly transform itself back to what in once was … it needs to also transform the language it uses.

July 02, 2008

Starbucks is Pruning

Big news went down yesterday. Starbucks is closing 600 existing locations, cutting new store openings even further, and significantly reducing its workforce. This is on top of recently announcing a major reduction in their Starbucks Entertainment foray.

It’s official … Starbucks is no longer in growth mode. They are in PRUNE MODE.

We’ve talked about the need for Starbucks to prune its unwieldy garden before. And that vintage post from March 2007 takes on new relevance today. To better understand why Starbucks is in PRUNE MODE, re-read this post from the Brand Autopsy archives…

first posted: March 17, 2007

"I have said for 20 years that our success is not an entitlement and now it's proving to be a reality. Let's be smarter about how we are spending our time, money and resources. Let's get back to the core. Push for innovation and do the things necessary to once again differentiate Starbucks from all others." -- Howard Schultz email

Paul Williams began this conversation about restoring Starbucks “coffee” identity by using the analogy of restoring antique furniture to its original state. He says Starbucks should strip off the extra layers of paint that have collected over the years. From there, he recommends Starbucks sandpaper away the rough spots and then apply a durable finish to intensify and highlight the unique grain of the Starbucks core. Interesting …

Maintaining the Starbucks Garden
Paul’s analogy to restoring the Starbucks brand luster, like one would restore antique furniture, got me thinking about gardening. Paul and I once played around with this gardening analogy back in the day. We were probably chomping on a Briazz sandwich at Starbucks HQ when we began drawing the connections between the role of gardener and our role as marketers.

When you look at it, the Starbucks business resembles a garden landscape. Hear me out …

The seeds of the business were first planted in 1971 with the three original founders of Starbucks playing the role of company gardener. As company gardeners, they carefully worked with the soil in the Pacific Northwest until it became fertile ground. At first, the soil wasn’t fertile enough for the roots of the company to take hold and grow. But after years of dedication and daily nurturing, the hard soil became fertile and Starbucks began to not only grow deep, healthy roots—it also began to blossom. By 1992, the Starbucks garden landscape was thriving with new growth happening. Throughout the 90s, Starbucks flowers were always in full bloom and its garden landscape was growing, and growing, and growing.

Today, the Starbucks garden is still growing, but its growth is unwieldy. Company gardeners are having a hard time managing the garden’s growth. An increasing number of new plants have sprouted in the Starbucks garden that do not belong there. Coffee plants have always grown in the Starbucks garden but today, there are more and more plants in the garden that resemble nothing like coffee. The Starbucks garden has become so cluttered by wildflowers and weeds that it’s hard to recognize where the coffee plants are. Because of the wildflower and weed clutter, the Starbucks garden has lost its identity.

It’s become apparent—the Starbucks garden needs major maintenance. It needs pruning.

Pruning promotes healthy growth. By pruning, gardeners are able to remove unwanted, unneeded, and unhealthy plants as well as limbs from trees. This reduction of plants and tree limbs will allow for more light and air into the garden, thus allowing for wanted and needed plants to grow in a healthy, sustainable manner.

To promote healthy growth, Starbucks needs to prune its business by removing unwanted, unneeded, and unhealthy elements from its business. Prune its Merchandise assortment. Prune its Entertainment division. Prune its New Store expansion. Prune its Automation Efficiency projects. Prune its partnership with Jim Beam. Prune everything that is causing Starbucks to lose its identity of sourcing, roasting, and serving the highest-quality coffee.

These pruning efforts will allow for Starbucks to rejuvenate its soul and refertilize its reason for existing. Then, and only then, will the Starbucks garden be able to grow in a much healthier, sustainable manner.

*** Read the full post here ***

For those seeking extra credit, read the entire SOLVING STARBUCKS PROBLEMS series of posts.

July 01, 2008

Starbucks Suffering from Brand Amnesia

Those in the medical field understand AMNESIA is a profound memory loss, usually the result of a traumatic event. Patients suffering from Amnesia have severe difficulty learning new information as well as remembering facts, events, and past experiences. Amnesia isn’t fatal. However, memory loss can be severe enough to require daily supervision from a caretaker. Coping rather than healing is the best case scenario for those suffering from Amnesia to live a somewhat productive life.

Marketing practitioners understand businesses can suffer from BRAND AMNESIA. When a business forgets its identity, disregards past learnings, and fails to learn new information … it has contracted BRAND AMNESIA.

I’m reminded of this marketing affliction from reading Janet Adamy’s dissection in the Wall Street Journal of Starbucks attempt to introduce a milder everyday coffee.

Earlier this year, as part of its much-discussed Transformation Agenda, Starbucks revamped its brewed coffee offerings. The Wall Street Journal explains the changes this way

Starbucks used to brew three types of coffee each day: one bold, one mild, and one decaffeinated. Now Starbucks outlets serve Pike Place Roast in regular and decaf versions every day. In the morning, stores also brew of the chain’s six bold flavors … but most Starbucks no longer brew a bold coffee after noon.

Pike Place Roast is a milder coffee compared to the bolder, earthier blends and single-origin coffees Starbucks formed its identity from. Loyal Starbucks customers have voiced their displeasure for the daily coffee that some have called, “… weak, watery, and no substitute for the bold.

While Starbucks doesn’t admit it, the focus on milder everyday coffee is in response to the encroaching competition of Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s. Taste tests show Starbucks bolder flavors are polarizing and McDonald’s coffee has a more appealing taste.

As a marketing practitioner who has kept a detailed “Starbucks Marketing History” folder, this sounds like Déjà-Vu all over again. In the late 90's, Starbucks was hearing the same comments, mainly from the East Coast, that their bolder coffees were too polarizing and to acquire new customers, the company needed to address the “Charbucks” issue.

In response, Starbucks introduced Milder Dimensions in 1998. According to then Sr. Coffee VP, Mary Williams, Starbucks “… created Milder Dimensions(tm) in response to customer requests to experience a lighter Starbucks coffee. The milder flavor profile of this family offers the perfect introduction to Starbucks, as well as providing more coffee options without compromising quality."

Long story made short … despite its heavy in-store and out-of-store marketing attempts, Starbucks Milder Dimensions became a footnote in the company’s history. Customers never truly embraced the softer and simpler taste profile of this lighter-roasted coffee. Worse yet, Starbucks Partners (employees) never fully embraced the Milder Dimensions coffees because they believed the company’s identity is about bolder tastes and not lighter tastes. By 2003, after suffering through years of lethargic sales, the Milder Dimensions category was discontinued.

Ten years later, Starbucks repeats itself by introducing an updated version of its failed Milder Dimensions coffee—Pike Place Roast. As noted in the Wall Street Journal article, Starbucks customers have voiced displeasure with this softer and simpler coffee. And negative comments from Starbucks Partners litter the StarbucksGossip blog.

Marketing and medical practitioners know one’s history foretells one’s future. Milder Dimensions didn’t work in 1998 and Pike Place Roast isn’t going to work in 2008.

With hints of marketing dementia, Starbucks executives are declaring Pike Place Roast a success because drip coffee sales are on the rise. However, my unofficial Marketing Resonance Imaging (MRI) tests reveal fissures in Starbucks thinking.

Since Starbucks rarely promotes brewed coffee with in-store signage and out-of-store advertising, a reasonable assumption is that brewed coffee sales would increase even if it was Sumatra being promoted and not Pike Place Roast. The economic downturn also comes into play. With a sluggish economy, consumers are finding ways to trade down to lesser expensive options. It makes logical sense some Starbucks customers are forgoing their $4.25 Latte for a $1.80 cup of brewed coffee.

Furthermore, if indeed Pike Place Roast was a success, the company wouldn’t be backtracking and re-introducing bolder brewed coffee options in the afternoon.

Let’s circle back to the BRAND AMNESIA affliction. Businesses that suffer from Brand Amnesia experience profound memory loss, most likely from a traumatic event. Its clear Starbucks forgot its past history with the failed Milder Dimensions coffee line-up. Was there a traumatic event that caused Starbucks to begin suffering from Brand Amnesia? Traumatic doesn’t begin to describe how Starbucks has seen its stock price lose more than half its value in the past year, its earnings greatly diminished, and most traumatic … a significant drop in the number of customers visiting Starbucks in 2008 compared to 2007.

Here’s hoping Starbucks finds daily caretakers that are fully aware of the company’s history and can help the company cope with the onset of BRAND AMNESIA.

June 30, 2008

The Other Starbucks Social Networking Site


We know about the MyStarbucksIdea website, which Starbucks positions as a catch-all blog, customer feedback site, and social networking website. The reality is that website is an unfocused slush pile for customer generated ideas.

But how many of us know about Starbucks V2V? It’s a full-fledged social networking site to promote volunteerism with customers and Starbucks partners (employees). It’s under the radar at this point — participation solely by invitation — and has only been mentioned officially by the company as an update entry on MyStarbucksIdea.

Think Meetup meets LinkedIn and there you have Starbucks V2V (Volunteer 2 Volunteer). You can post a cause, an event, or an activity and have others join you. Easy enough to understand and simple enough to make happen.

Starbucks V2V has real promise. It’s clearly community-focused with a drive to making positive contributions to small corners around the world. By having profile pages for participants, it feels much more personal than does the way-too-sterile MyStarbucksIdea website.

If you dig a little deeper you’ll learn Starbucks V2V began in Brazil using technology developed by Comunitas. In a way, this is an International “best practice” that has been adopted by Starbucks North America. Cool.

My hope is Starbucks uses this full-fledged social networking site to endorse and develop a long-rumored “Starbucks Alumni” website. For years Starbucks has talked about setting up an Alumni network, but the job was always too daunting to begin. The technology clearly exists and the online usability is sufficient … which makes this Starbucks Alumni idea totally doable in 2008.

Why nurture relationships with ex-employees?

Well, many new hires at Starbucks were influenced by former Starbucks partners. Most ex-Starbucks employees had a positive time at the company and they’ve said good things to their friends about Starbucks. And for some of us, including me as a former Starbucks partner, we shared a common bond during our days at Starbucks. Reconnecting with former Starbucks colleagues on a company-endorsed website could potentially reignite the passions we all once had for Starbucks. That reignition of passion is something Starbucks could benefit from as it suffers through its “mid-life” crisis.

June 19, 2008

Tribal Knowledge Money Quotes

(It's nice to know my two-year old book still has some legs.)

Just got off the phone with a journalist writing a story about some of the marketing lessons I share in TRIBAL KNOWLEDGE. The journalist put together some tasty pull quotes from the book to help direct our conversation.

And since I'm obviously suffering from a severe case of blog drought, below are the money quotes the journalist pulled. Enjoy.

“Companies that focus on delivering remarkable products and services attract significant attention from customers conditioned to a retail world in which the necessities are bought and sold without fuss or feeling.” (Page xiii)
“Companies that put their money behind their brand and not their business fail to realize that the business is the brand.” (Page 6)
“Starbucks learned the most effective way to spend its marketing dollars is not on making funnier television commercials but rather on making better customer experiences.” (Page 10)
“…lasting brand loyalty is built on making the common uncommon…” (Page 11)
“Measuring the reputation of a brand can and should be as simple as measuring the reputation of a company – something that is earned through purposeful execution and not merely fabricated to exploit a worthwhile business opportunity.” (Page 24)
“The challenge for a company that chooses to open its doors – and grow its business – based on quality products and services and quality customer experiences is that it has only one shot to make a meaningful customer connection. Customers will overcome their aversion to higher prices if the product or service they are buying is well worth it.” (Page 32)
“Businesses can simplify sales strategies by focusing on acquiring new customers; getting current customers to buy more, more often; and/or raising prices. It really is that simple.” (Page 40)
“Growth was and is encouraged, and made possible, by wanting to meet the desires of customers more than wanting to meet sales or profit projections…Starbucks’ steadfast drive to become the best coffee retailer has resulted in its being the biggest coffee retailer. It can often work out that way…but it never seems to work in the reverse.” (Page 51)
“What is the benefit of the benefit of your best-selling product or service? Think about its most important feature and make it more personal, until you’ve reached the ultimate experience your customers derive from it.” (Page 59)
“Needs are basic. Needs are rational. Needs are boring. Needs have been commoditized. Every unremarkable business seems to be in the needs-fulfilling business. Wants are emotional. Wants are aspirational. Wants are thrilling. Wants are where the profits are. Only truly remarkable businesses are in the business of satisfying customer wants by helping customers actualize their aspirations.” (Page 96)
“Delivering on promises is not enough today. Businesses, big or small, must find ways to over-deliver on their promises, implied and expressly stated, to customers…The most important part of over-delivering on promises to customers is having conscientious employees who make over-delivering a part of their everyday on-the-job way of life.” (Pages 103-104)
“…experiences provide customers with rich and compelling stories to share with others, while products typically satiate immediate, basic needs.” (Page 136)
“The best internal culture a company could hope for is one where the employees are so loyal they spread word of the company and its product with fierce passion, a culture where employees go way beyond being minions to being missionaries.” (Page 157)
“Brands are made possible by people because, unlike products and services, competitors cannot replicate a brand’s promise, or their passion.” (Page 189)
“Starbucks doesn’t view profit and the maximizing of profits as business strategy. The company views profit as an outcome. The mindset at Starbucks is, profit happens as a direct result of doing everything else right.” (Page 225)
Further learning:
>> TRIBAL KNOWLEDGE | Amazon link
>> TRIBAL KNOWLEDGE Manifesto | ChangeThis website
>> ALL THINGS STARBUCKS | Brand Autopsy postings

April 30, 2008

Starbucks Slows U.S. Growth

Net income for Q2 2008 at Starbucks fell by $42-million compared to the same quarter last year. (Ouch.) Additionally, Starbucks is drastically reducing the number of new store openings in the U.S. Starbucks opened nearly 1,800 locations in 2007. For 2008 the company will open only 1,175 new locations — that’s a 35% reduction in new store openings from the prior year. And, beginning in 2009 through 2011, Starbucks will limit new store openings to only 400 per year.

Clearly the company is experiencing growth troubles in the U.S. However, Starbucks is hoping to offset the slower domestic growth with greater international growth. Starbucks is set to open up anywhere from 1,050 to 1,300 new international locations each year through 2011.
Have a listen to this interesting story on Starbucks from NPR’s Morning Edition. (Skip to the 3:10 mark in the story for a surprise.)

March 24, 2008

Monday Morning Quarterbacking

Nathan Snell runs the social media voodoo down with smart analysis of And when you read Shel Holtz's take on how Starbucks mirrors Dell, be sure to read the comments where Caroline Dietz from Dell provides clarification.

March 21, 2008

My Starbucks Idea

In the comments section, a former long-time Starbucks partner questions just how much the website will engage readers and engage Starbucks. ”Pat’s" comments got me thinking more about Starbucks social media strategy. Below is my reply to "Pat"

Pat … I’m also not sold on Starbucks jumping into the deep end of the social media waters. The company has no meaningful experience in social media and has always shunned participating in online conversations.

Instead of opening the customer suggestion box floodgate, which is exactly what MyStarbucksIdea is, I would have started by taking a much smaller step and simply layered on a blog-like component to their existing website. On this proposed company blog, Starbucks could ask customers focused questions about their ideas on improving various aspects of the Starbucks business.

For example, a potential Starbucks blog post could read something like…

”As you’ve heard, we are discontinuing our oven-heated breakfast sandwiches. This doesn’t mean we are exiting the breakfast business. It does mean we are looking for morning food ideas that customers will enjoy more. I’m sure you have ideas on what food we should offer in the morning. Please share. We are listening.”

Another potential Starbucks blog post could say …

”When we launched the Starbucks Card in 2001, we had no idea it would be accepted by so many of our customers. 15% of you purchase all your Starbucks stuff on the Card. That’s amazing! Thank you. We want to “thank” Starbucks Card users even more. Please share your ideas on how we can reward you for your continued devotion to Starbucks.”

The company could reply to customer suggestions to these focused questions in the comments section. Starbucks could do a weekly round-up of the most popular ideas and post updates on which ideas are moving forward.

This focused approach to (a) participating in social media and (b) gathering customer suggestions would be easier for a company with no meaningful social media experience to manage. It would also make it easier for Starbucks customers to follow-along. The current MyStarbucksIdea website is already unwieldy — lots of wayward ideas have been suggested and many of the ideas suggested are repeated numerous times in various categories. This website will only get more unwieldy.

A more focused approach to participating in the social media waters would probably have been a better path for Starbucks to undertake.

johnmoore (from Brand Autopsy)

March 20, 2008

Clover Brewer video

A friend pointed me to some interesting videos showing the Clover Brewer in action. (Thanks Mr. Garraway.)

Turns out there is a coffee shop in Austin that uses one -- J.P.'s Java. (I feel a field trip coming on.)

If you have no idea why I am blogging this, read this.

March 19, 2008

Starbucks Transformational Agenda

Since I have lots of HMOs (hot marketing opinions) about Starbucks, reckon I should share my take on today’s major goings-on with the company. Since there’s lots to talk about, I’ve arranged my thoughts in a “WHAT | SO WHAT | WHAT TO THINK” format.


At its 2008 Shareholders Meeting, Starbucks announced six initiatives designed to: (a) improve the current state of its U.S. business, (b) reignite the emotional connection with customers, and (c) invest for long-term success.

The six initiatives are:
1 | New Espresso Machines
2 | Ethically-Sourced Coffees
3 | A Social Media Strategy
4 | A Customer Rewards Program
5 | Improved Brewed Coffee
6 | Acquisition of the Clover Brewing machine

1 | New Espresso Machines
Starbucks will phase out its current automated espresso machine, known as the Verisimo, for a higher-quality automated machine. The new Mastrena machine is also an automated machine, but Starbucks believes the quality of espresso and steamed milk is superior to that of their current machine. Starbucks plans to have the Mastreno in 30% of U.S. locations by the end of 2008 and in 70% of U.S. locations by 2010.

2 | Ethically Sourced Coffees
Starbucks will further its relationship with Conservation International in a variety of ways. Customers will notice this relationship with a certification seal on select coffees judged to have been grown and sourced using stringent standards. By the end of 2009, every Starbucks espresso drink prepared around the world will be used with coffee beans certified by Conservation International as being ethically grown and sourced.

3 | Social Media Strategy
Starbucks is following the lead of companies like Dell by introducing a website where customers can submit their ideas on how Starbucks can improve its business. is the company’s first meaningful foray into social media. Howard Schultz will blog here and 48 Starbucks employees will be assigned to engage in conversations with customers on the website.

4 | Customer Rewards Program
Customers with registered Starbucks Cards will able to receive free syrups and free milk options (soy, half & half) when they order espresso drinks. In other words, customers using their registered Starbucks Card will only have to pay for a Grande Latte when they order a Grande Extra Vanilla Light Hazelnut Soy Latte. (The free modifiers do not include shots of espresso.)

Additionally, Starbucks Card customers will also receive 2-hours of free daily in-store wi-fi, free refills on brewed coffee, and a free 12-oz. beverage (espresso, coffee, or Frappuccino) when they buy a pound of whole bean coffee. These are only the initial rewards Starbucks Card holders are set to receive in April. The company plans to add-on more rewards in the months to come.

5 | Improved Brewed Coffee
Starbucks is changing its policies for brewing coffee in-store. They will be brewing in smaller batches and reducing the hold time for brewed coffee from 60-minutes to 30-minutes. Plus, the company will no longer rely on pre-packaged ground coffee filter packs and instead, grind whole bean coffees in-store to brew as drip coffee. A new blend, Pike Place Roast, will be introduced and brewed as an everyday coffee.

6 | Acquisition of the Clover Brewing machine
Coffee geeks rave about the Clover Brewer and high-end coffee shops have been using the Clover Brewer to brew richer, more flavorful coffee. Starbucks has been selling brewed coffee using the Clover Brewer in selected locations in Seattle and Boston. Results of the test have been promising. So promising, Starbucks is acquiring the Coffee Equipment Company, makers of the Clover Brewer. Starbucks has plans to rollout the Clover Brewer to a limited number of locations.

UPDATE: to watch the Clover Brewer in action, click here.

We were promised to learn of transformational initiatives that would reverse the negatives trends impacting the company. We learned of six initiatives. I'm not sure how transformational these initiatives will be.

Let’s judge these transformational initiatives against the objectives Starbucks outlined at the Shareholders Meetings. Will these six ideas (a) improve the current state of its US business, (b) reignite the emotional connection with customers, and (c) invest for long-term success.

1 | New Espresso Machines
The introduction of the Mastrena espresso machine is clearly an investment for long-term success. Starbucks says they will roll-out this new machine to 30% of its U.S. locations by year’s end. We’re talking over 2,000 locations—that’s highly aggressive. Given all the issues of production, distribution, installation, and employee training, Starbucks will be fortunate to have the Mastrena espresso machine in 1,000 locations by year’s end.

Expect this new espresso machine to have little financial impact on Starbucks business in 2008. As for reigniting the emotional connection with customers … that’s hard to measure. Let’s just say friendlier Starbucks baristas will reignite the emotional connection with customers more than an espresso machine ever could.

2 | Ethically Sourced Coffees
It’ll be 2009, when espresso drinks are made with Conservation International certified coffees, before this initiative can improve Starbucks U.S. business. With customers that value environmental issues and origin country matters, this initiative will help to build a stronger emotional connection with them. I’m not sure how many Starbucks customers are emotionally-tied to such issues. However, any activity designed to be friendlier to the environment and to coffee origin countries will be a good long-term investment.

3 | Social Media Strategy
Hmm … I applaud Starbucks for diving into the social media waters. (Really, I do.) I’m just concerned they haven’t done their homework. Chris Bruzzo, Starbucks chief technology officer, made the following statement when introducing the website, “I am not aware of another organization that is investing in making this kind of a commitment to integrate customers and their ideas and their insights into the products and experiences that they develop.”

So we are to believe Starbucks is unaware of Dell’s social media activities with Direct2Dell and more importantly, IdeaStorm. Starbucks can learn a lot from what Dell has done and is doing with social media to better connect with customers.

This marks a major cultural shift within the company. Starbucks has never participated in the online conversational media. It’s not like they can flip the switch to on. Its not that easy. (Just ask Dell.)

Time will tell if Starbucks customers are engaged by this online activity. Time will also tell if Starbucks corporate culture will adapt to social media and when (or if) Starbucks will implement customer ideas. Right now the most popular customer generated idea is for the company to implement a Buy 9 Drinks Get 1 Free punch card. That’s a marketing activity the company abolished a long time ago. How will Starbucks respond now?

4 | A Customer Rewards Program
Clearly, Starbucks is seeking to drive sales by getting current customers to buy more, more often. Offering Starbucks Card customers free syrups and free refills is just the first step in what looks to be a more involved “loyalty program.” This has the potential to drive sales in 2008 and to reignite the connection with customers. The future is a different story. Once Starbucks heads down the path of offering customers discounts, they will have a hard time ever reversing course.

5 | Improved Brewed Coffee
The vast majority of beverage sales at Starbucks, as measured by total dollars, come from espresso drinks, not brewed coffee. Improving their brewed coffee policies is a positive move that the company should have made years ago. Will these changes, including the introduction of Pike Place Roast as an everyday coffee, move the sales needle? No. Improve the emotional connection with customers? No. Be a sound investment for the future? Yes.

6 | Acquisition of the Clover Brewing machine
These new high-end brewers will only impact a small number of stores. Since these brewers make single cups of coffee on-demand, volume selling of drip coffee will not be possible. The Clover brewer will not have an immediate impact on sales in 2008. It does have the potential to impact the future business of Starbucks. Because this appeals to only coffee connoisseurs, I’m not convinced the typical Starbucks customer will care.

Where do we stand? Let’s take a look at the Transformational Agenda Scorecard…

It appears these six initiatives will have an impact on the long-term Starbucks business, but the short-term impact is minimal. That’s my take. What’s yours?

And yes, I do need to get a life.

February 27, 2008

Starbucks should do more of this…

No I’m not talking about the re-training of its front-line employees on how to make the perfect coffee drink. I am talking about a video ditty I spied on YouTube. It’s a two-minute documentary of Young Han, a Starbucks barista, talking about his “Got Milk” photo shoot and his appreciation for the Starbucks Coffee Company.

It works great as a recruitment video. Not slick. Not scripted. Just genuine moments and reflections. Have a look…

RSS readers ... click here to watch the video

As we’ve discussed, Starbucks is doing very little to tap into the Third Space communities people are forming online. (Big miss in my book.)

While Howard Schultz may never blog, Starbucks should STRONGLY CONSIDER encouraging its young and talented workforce to post videos of why they feel a connection to Starbucks. They could turn it into a contest similar to Deloitte & Touche’s brilliant Film Fest idea where Starbucks baristas would submit short videos showcasing “What Starbucks Means to Me.” The best 10 videos would be posted on the barren Starbucks YouTube page for all to see.

Each of these top 10 videos would serve as a great recruitment tool for Starbucks. And the creators of these videos could be rewarded in some way, perhaps stock options. A simple idea to execute with potentially big results of attracting a better front-line employee to deliver better customer experiences.

(This is yet another in a series of free ideas from Brand Autopsy and the readers of this blog that Starbucks would be smart to use.)

February 05, 2008

Howard Schultz Must Blog

As we know, Howard Schultz has returned as CEO at Starbucks.  He’s committed to fixing the “unintended consequences” caused by growing its store footprint at a rapid pace.  Such unintended consequences have included losing the company’s identity and the dilution of the unique customer experience Starbucks once delivered.  Howard has also pledged to refocus the company on growing its relationships with customers.

Writing in the Huffington Post, Jesse Kornbluth raises a valid point,

“It's interesting that Schultz professes to love Starbucks customers but has no apparent interest in hearing from us. How's that, Howard? You're going to thrill us without getting our input? Do you really think focus groups, consumer research and executive offsites will tell you what you need to know? What, exactly, do you think the Starbucks website is for?”

Jesse is onto something when he writes, “Schultz professes to love Starbucks customers but has no apparent interest in hearing from us.”

As evidence by their lack of participation, we know Starbucks, as a company, has refused to blog and refuses to participate in online conversations.  The Starbucks Gossip blog is all the proof the company needs to know that people want Starbucks to join the online conversation.  Yet, the company refuses to have a conversation with its customers (and employees) online.

Clearly, Starbucks was ahead of the curve with tapping into satisfying the consumer need of a Third Place—a place besides home and work where people could form community.  But consumers have evolved from needing a Third Place to needing a Third Space.  This Third Space includes social media spaces like blogs, vlogs, podcasts, Twitter, and many more. These are spaces where meaningful online communities are forming.

Now that the company recognizes it needs to improve its relationships with customers to improve the health of its business, maybe Starbucks will consider blogging.

Better yet, given Howard Schultz’s pledge to growing the company's relationships with customers, he should blog.  He should give us, the 50+ million Starbucks customers who visit his stores weekly, updates on how his company is making the necessarily changes to follow his vision for reclaiming the Starbucks luster. 

Howard recently told Wall Street analysts that, since returning as CEO, he has received thousands of emails from customers and employees who share his enthusiasm for reigniting the emotional attachment people have with the Starbucks brand.  With a blog, just imagine how many more messages Howard would receive from adoring customers and employees who want to see the company succeed.

Howard has always talked about growing his company to get bigger by acting smaller.  And a blog, or some other social media avenue, is the perfect tool to help big companies get smaller in customer’s eyes.  Other CEO blogs like Jonathan Schwartz’s blog and Bob Lutz’s blog have helped to make Sun Microsystems and General Motors, both goliath companies, get smaller in the eyes of customers.  And thanks to encouraging its employees to blog, companies like Microsoft look less pervasive and less evil in the eyes of customers. 

Can you imagine the conversations that would occur if Howard Schultz used the Starbucks website to regularly share updates on how his company is bringing back the old Starbucks juju?  I’m sure many of the Starbucks faithful would be thrilled to read impassioned updates from Howard.  I'm also sure Howard would receive pointed feedback (and yes, un-pointed feedback too) on activities the company should stop doing, start doing, and/or continue doing.

Unfortunately, the Starbucks corporate culture doesn’t sync with social media.  My experience of working deep inside the company tells me Starbucks is extremely careful in how they are portrayed in the traditional media.  They want to be in control of the conversation in the media as much as possible.  Since Starbucks is cautious about how traditional media portrays the company, then no way will Starbucks be comfortable playing in the non-traditional untamed waters of social media.  Do I think this is right?  Absolutely not!

Starbucks helped to popularize the “New Marketing” ethos of spending marketing dollars on making better customer experiences and not on making extravagant advertising campaigns.  In essence, Starbucks baked marketing inside its business.  It didn’t have to advertise because everything about the in-store Starbucks experience was the advertising.

Starbucks still operates under this “New Marketing” ethos but the game has evolved dramatically.  A “NOW MARKETING” movement has emerged and Starbucks hasn’t kept up.  This “NOW MARKETING” ethos is the realization of the prophetic Cluetrain Manifesto where the Internet has changed how customers expect to interact with businesses.  As the Cluetrain writers explain:

"A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies."

In growing its business, Starbucks has always operated under the guidance of “Be everywhere its customers expect them to be.”  This is the rationale for why the company began serving its coffee on United Airlines, expanding Internationally, operating licensed concept locations in airports, selling cold bottled coffee in convenience stores, selling whole bean coffee in grocery stores, etc.

Customers today have a new expectation. 

Customers now expect Starbucks, and other businesses, to engage in conversations with them wherever and whenever.  Be it in the Third Place or the Third Space, customers want to interact with businesses they love.  By being active in the Third Space online, companies show their love for customers by being open to having a conversation with them. 

If Howard Schultz really loves his 50+million weekly customers, he would show it by evolving his company’s culture to adopt the “NOW MARKETING” movement.  If Howard Schultz really loves Starbucks customers, he must blog.  He must carry on a conversation with us.

UPDATE:  This blog post has been simmering within me for a few weeks.  After hitting the publish button, I ventured over to the site and hidden in the bottom right-hand corner is a "Howard Schultz Partner Update" link.  This particular update is titled. "What I Know to Be True."  Interesting.  Seems like Howard is using the company website to share his impassioned updates with customers and employees.

Also posted are are transcripts of voicemails to stores regarding the work ahead of the company. 

Of course, it would be better if Starbucks were to open up the conversation, allow comments from readers, and commit to making this an on-going feature.  That way, Starbucks would be embracing the "NOW MARKETING" movement we have come to expect from businesses we adore.

January 23, 2008

“Buy Anything” starring Howard Schultz

Check out Chris’ tasty riff in the comments section of my Starbucks One-Dollar Cup o’ Joe post. This reference had me laughing …

“If Howard, like John Cusack holding the tape player outside the window in "Say Anything," is using this a tactic to make me pay attention so that he can look deep in my eyes and tell me he's sorry--I might listen if the words and actions seem sincere and real change follows.” [source]

And that reference inspired “Bobby Breve” to send me this visual. Beautiful. (Thanks Bobby.)


Starbucks One-Dollar Cup o’ Joe

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz once said, “Our marketing will emphasize quality and service, not price.” He’s now doing something different.

In a bigger shift in marketing strategy than spending millions on national television advertising, Starbucks is now selling short-sized cups of brewed coffee for a $1.00 and offering free refills at Seattle-area locations. (Reuters link | WSJ link)

Oh My! That is a MAJOR shift in strategy for Starbucks. Here’s why…

“Starbucks fiercely protects its pricing power because it knows a low-price strategy is the quickest pathway to commoditizing and marginalizing coffee back to being, well, just coffee. It also knows if it lowers prices, it will have a hard time ever raising them again. Most important of all, Starbucks knows higher prices bring them healthier profit margins, which fuel the cozy experience customers enjoy.

By ever deciding to run itself as a priced-to-sell retailer, Starbucks would be admitting it no longer values a unique product or a unique customer experience. Seth Godin, author of Purple Cow, goes one step further, saying that a low-price strategy is “the last refuge of a…marketer who is out of great ideas.” The folks at Starbucks are too smart, too savvy, and too creative to fall for the low-price trap. And if they ever did, Starbucks as we know it—Starbucks as a forward-thinking company—would cease to exist.” SOURCE

Those words were written in TRIBAL KNOWLEDGE, my love story to a company that shaped how I approach marketing. In my eight-years there, we, Starbucks marketers, would have never considered promoting a $1 Cup o’Joe to increase sales. Instead, we would have used of a combination of these ideas to solve for Starbucks problems.

A "cheap coffee strategy" ... Oh My! is right; because, a low-price strategy is indeed the quickest pathway to commoditizing and marginalizing coffee back to being, well, just coffee.

UPDATE: For an editorial-like cartoon on this "One Buck" Buck strategy, peep this.

January 07, 2008

Howard Schultz mirrors Michael Dell

Last year about this time Micheal Dell returned to his CEO post at the company he founded. Under Kevin Rollins’s CEO leadership, Dell’s market share hit a four-year low and growth prospects were grim. Rollins resigned and Dell reclaimed his CEO role.

Last year about this time Howard Schultz sent a memo to his Starbucks executive team challenging them to get smarter about how they are running the company and to get back to the company's core business. Starbucks CEO Jim Donald was charged with driving sales and driving innovation at the company. In 2007, Starbucks stock value fell 48% and the company reported its first every year-over-year drop in customer traffic. Donald is out and Schultz is back as CEO.

The jury is still deliberating on Michael Dell and the turnaround of his company.

The jury is just convening about Howard Schultz and the turnaround of his company.

For the most riveting and rambunctious discussion about this unexpected CEO change-over at Starbucks, read the comments on the Starbucks Gossip blog.

McDonald's battles Starbucks

Sensing an opportunity to further democratize espresso, McDonald’s is moving full throttle into the espresso beverage business. Currently, 800 of McDonald’s U.S. locations offer lattes, cappuccinos, and frappes. By 2009, most U.S. McDonald’s locations will be selling coffee drinks ranging in price from $1.99 to $3.29. McDonald’s believes an expanded coffee menu will add about $1-billion in yearly sales.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal
, Janet Adamy reports,

The program attempts to replicate the Starbucks experience in many ways -- starting with borrowing the barista moniker. Espresso machines will be displayed at the front counters, a big shift for a company that has always hidden its food assembly from customers. McDonald's says it wants customers to see the coffee beans being ground and baristas topping the mochas and Frappes with whipped cream.

"You create a little bit more of a theater there," says John Betts, McDonald's vice president of national beverage strategy.

The theater element, of having employees preparing food while interacting with customers, is a major shift in company culture for the operationally-efficient McDonald’s system. In the article, Adamy mentions how McDonald’s franchisees have been instructed to hire people who are “very friendly.”

That’s a start to bringing more theatrics to a customer’s McDonald’s experience, but why is hiring “very friendly” people a new behavior for McDonald’s? (Hmm.)

The people component to delivering customer experiences is ultra-important to McDonald’s — more important than the actual coffee beverage program. Why? Because Starbucks competitors can replicate products and programs, but they can’t replicate people.

In TRIBAL KNOWLEDGE, my book sharing business lessons I learned from Starbucks, I wrote about this topic saying …

Ambitious coffee competitors like Caribou Coffee, Cosi’s, Tully’s Coffee, Gloria Jean’s, Barnies, CC’s Coffee House, and others have all tried to mimic Starbucks success in some way. And they have all fallen short in some way.

These coffee companies have tried and are trying to replicate the products and experiences Starbucks delivers, but they can’t replicate the people Starbucks has delivering the products and experiences to customers.

Products do not create brands, people create brands. It’s the people that matter more in creating a brand than the product itself. And Starbucks places a tremendous emphasis on hiring the right people to deliver exceptional products and meaningful experiences to customers.

When hiring employees for store-level and corporate-level positions, Starbucks looks for the following upstanding “people” qualities in each candidate: genuineness, conscientiousness, knowledge, and involvement.

Genuine people build solid relationships with others because they are approachable and likeable. Starbucks employees who are genuine make for great team members, and they can be trusted to deliver heartfelt customer service.

A conscientious employee is one who is considerate and pays attention to seemingly insignificant details because everything matters to them. And since “everything matters” at Starbucks, this quality is of utmost importance in all employees Starbucks chooses to hire.

Starbucks employees are expected to know coffee to the extent that they will confidently share their coffee knowledge with customers. To find employees with this quality, Starbucks looks for people who ask questions. Asking questions at Starbucks is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength. Inquisitive employees lead to knowledgeable employees and knowledgeable employees are quicker to share their expertise with others.

Employees who get involved within the company and within their community are valued at Starbucks. When employees take the time to get involved and make connections with others, they showcase a caring soul. Starbucks seeks to hire caring souls because they are more likely to make emotional connections with people.

Even if McDonald's can successfully change its company culture to hire engaging employees, it still must solve for how to integrate its highly-involved coffee program with its streamlined operations customer have come to expect.

As Adamy writes, “Still, the new coffee program is a risky bet for McDonald's. It could slow down operations and alienate customers who come to McDonald's for cheap, simple fare rather than theatrics.”

November 28, 2007

Solving Starbucks Problems

As a leading authority on customer evangelism and word-of-mouth marketing, Jackie Huba has added her voice to the discussion about the problems Starbucks is facing. She highlights how Starbucks losing its authenticity has driven the company from using customers as its primary advertising vehicle, to using national television commercials as an advertising vehicle.

Back in March, Paul Williams and I dissected many of these authenticity issues Starbucks faces in a series of back-n-forth blog posts. Together, Paul and I have a combined 19-years of marketing experience with Starbucks and we tapped into that experience to talk strategies and tactics Starbucks could follow to reclaim its authenticity.

At the time, we were responding to Howard Schultz’s leaked internal memo where he admitted that Starbucks has “… had to make a series of decisions that, in retrospect, have lead to the watering down of the Starbucks experience, and, some might call the commoditization of our [Starbucks] brand.

Our series of posts have been given new relevance since Starbucks has decided to use national television advertising to solve some of its business problems. Re-read, or read for the first time, the laundry list of strategies and tactics Paul and I believe Starbucks could implement to become the company it once was.


We began by addressing the LOSS OF COFFEE THEATRE issue:
Paul analyzed the switchover from the La Marzocco espresso machine to the Verisimo automatic machine and offered up tactical ideas Starbucks can use to course-correct itself back to espresso authenticity. I riffed off Paul’s post and added the idea Starbucks needs to give permission to store partners to showcase their flair and personality while on the bar in order bring some of the coffee theatre back.
Next on our list was the LOSS OF COFFEE AROMA issue:
I explain in detail how “operational efficiencies” (not Flavorlock packaging) have led to Starbucks stores no longer smelling of coffee. I offer the quick-fix solution of finding ways to grind coffee in-store again. Paul disagrees with my exoneration of Flavorlock packaging and he smartly offers up the idea of implementing an “Aroma First” rule. This “Aroma First” rule would have Starbucks making in-store decisions based upon how any proposed activity would impact the aroma of coffee inside a Starbucks.
We also addressed the LOSS OF STORE SOUL issue:
Paul breaks down what it means to be a Mom & Pop shop and gives specific ideas on how Starbucks store design should stop being all things to all people at all its stores. I offer up thoughts on how Starbucks should give more control to its stores to run store-specific marketing programs and post store-specific marketing signage.
We touched upon the LOSS OF MERCHANDISE focus:
I explain how Bearista Bears and Finger Puppets sell very well, but it a great cost to the brand. As a solution, I propose Starbucks ask itself two questions to ensure its merchandise focus: (#1) Does the product link directly to coffee? If yes, sell it. If no, don’t. (#2) Does the quality of this product match the high-quality of Starbucks coffee. If yes, sell it. If no, don’t. Paul adds-on and modifies my two questions by asking if the merchandise links directly to either the preparation, consumption, and/or enjoyment of coffee. He closes his thoughts by expressing just because Starbucks can sell music, DVDs, and plush toys doesn’t mean they should.
We close by addressing the LOSS OF IDENTITY issue:
Paul likens Starbucks returning to its core to restoring antique furniture to its core, original finish. He also brilliantly points out Starbucks needs LESS INNOVATION and MORE EXPLORATION. Starbucks didn’t invent coffee, it explored the world of coffee and brought interesting flavors to its customers. Paul says Starbucks should concern itself with digging deeper into the world of coffee and uncover exotic coffee concoctions and share them. I take the IDENTITY conversation in a different direction and explain how Starbucks needs to standup to the bullies working on Wall Street by pruning all of its unhealthy growth in order to rejuvenate its soul and refertilize its reason for existing.

For even more ideas on how Starbucks can solve its business problems, read what myself and a cadre of other marketing-minded folks have to say in the WHAT MUST STARBUCKS DO? manifesto published online by ChangeThis in April of 2007.

November 18, 2007

Pass the Cheer Starbucks TV Ad

UPDATED [Nov. 27]: Starbucks has posted all three of their Holiday television commercials online. You can view them here.

The "Bear Hug" and "Window Washer" spots continue the good Samaritan "Pass the Cheer" angle with the major difference being the focus on the Starbucks Red Cup. The Red Cup is so much more recognizable as being Starbuckian than is the red Christmas Blend whole bean bag (seen in the Ski Lift ad).

As a marketer, I would like the closing shot on these two spots to linger a little longer. Both of these new commercials close with the Red Cup holiday beverage focus. However, the closing payoff shot feels rushed. Not enough time for us viewers to read, understand, or connect with the copy on the draped banner. They could have easily shaved off a second or two in the build-up and added it to the closing payoff shot for more effectiveness. Have a look for yourself. Click below...


>> original post <<
Lots of c-h-a-t-t-e-r about the television spots Starbucks is running. I haven't seen them on the tele, but Starbucks has posted one spot online.

Click below to watch the commercial....


Hmm ... okay. Starbucks waited 36-years for this? It's nice. It's benign. It's subtle. Can't see how this spot will drive in new customers, nor drive current customers to come in more often during the Holidays. (And yeah, I know this is just one component to the overall Starbucks Holiday promotion.)

What's your take? Does this television ad make you feel any different about Starbucks? Does it make you want to visit a Starbucks and buy some Christmas Blend?


In the comments section, Scott questions how this TV spot syncs up with Starbucks brand identity.

Great point. The missing ingredient of Starbucks first national television commercial is brand identity. This spot feels more appropriate for Caribou Coffee than it does Starbucks. (For those unaware, Caribou Coffee is the second largest coffee retailer in the US. According to Wikipedia, Caribou has over 460 locations in 18 states.)

Caribou's brand identity is wrapped around the cozy ski lodge concept as well as the leaping deer in its logo. The in-store décor of a Caribou Coffee location is reminiscent of a ski lodge, complete with exposed weathered wood and comfy chairs around a fireplace. (Photos here, here, and here.)

The leaping deer, which easily passes for a reindeer during the Holidays, is as iconic to Caribou as the Siren is to Starbucks.

Additionally, Caribou uses a pastel aqua-blue color as part of its brand identity.

So upon further review, this commercial from Starbucks works better for Caribou Coffee than it does for Starbucks. Ski scenes are more associated with Caribou than Starbucks. A deer is more linked to the Caribou brand than the Starbucks brand. Caribou’s color scheme has always been drenched in an aqua-blue color, while Starbucks color scheme hasn’t.

Upon even further review, this Starbucks commercial fails the “Logo Test.” If we were to swap out the Starbucks Christmas Blend bag at the end of the spot and replace it with Caribou’s Reindeer Blend, the commercial would still work just fine. Anytime you can swap out your logo for a competitor’s logo in any piece of marketing collateral and it looks fine, you have a problem.

So ... Starbucks, with its first national television commercial, has made a great ad for Caribou Coffee.

November 16, 2007

Starbucks Television Advertising


UPDATE: Click here to watch one of the Starbucks Holiday commercials.

On a conference call with Wall Street analysts, Starbucks Coffee revealed fewer customers are visiting its stores and that year-over-year sales are stagnant. The company reported a 1.0% drop in customer traffic as compared to the same period last year and despite two price increases, same store sales increased only 4.0% from the year prior.

In response, Starbucks announced a three-point plan to reverse their sluggish financial numbers. First, the company will attempt to sharpen its store-level operations to better deliver the “Starbucks Experience” customers have come to expect. Second, the company will focus on introducing new beverages that are more innovative and more appealing to customers. Third, Starbucks will launch a national television advertising campaign in hopes of driving new customers into its stores as well as getting current customers to visit more often.

So What?
Since being a publicly traded company, Starbucks has never experienced a reduction in customer visits. Remarkably, they have always had more customers visiting its stores … until now. This is uncharted territory for Starbucks. And Starbucks is concerned.

Additionally, for nearly a decade, year-over-year sales at Starbucks have been very strong—anywhere from 7.0% to 13.0%. So the current trend where comp sales are stagnate in the low single-digits is quite alarming for Starbucks.

For many companies, the answer to the question of, “Sales are down and customer counts are falling, what should we do?” is to spend marketing dollars on creating a television-heavy advertising campaign. That hasn’t been the answer at Starbucks.

Starbucks has always followed the unconventional strategy of using its in-store experience as its main marketing tool. Everything about the Starbucks experience marketed the Starbucks business: the coffee in the iconic white logo cup, the personal interaction between a customer and a Starbucks barista, the in-store decor, the music playing overhead, the welcoming smell of the coffee, and the feeling customers had during their Starbucks “moment.”

As noted in the conference call, Starbucks will continue down the unconventional path of spending marketing dollars to improve the customer’s in-store experience through better store operations and more appealing beverages.

But now, the company has also decided to follow the more conventional path to arresting declining sales through launching a television advertising campaign. According to Ad Age, we can expect to see three Holiday-focused animated 30-second spots running on select cable channels and network television channels.

This dramatic change in marketing strategy goes to show us how seriously the company is taking the soft comp sales and declining transaction comps. Starbucks is willing to risk its go-to-market strategy by spending significant monies on television ads to lure customers during the Holiday season.

To this marketer, it’s a little foolish to spend advertising dollars on television during the Holiday season without going all-out. I doubt Starbucks is putting mega-millions behind this television push. With so many retailers spending mega-millions on television advertising during the Holiday shopping season, the limited advertising spend from Starbucks is sure to get lost in all the ad clutter. Plus, I get the feeling these commercials will be go hard on pushing the relevance of the Starbucks brand during the Holidays and go very soft on selling specific products.

A smarter spend for Starbucks would be to go all-out during the Spring/Summer months and use television advertising to promote their promotion-friendly Frappuccino blended beverages. Starbucks has always treated their Frappuccino drinks as being more promotional than their other coffee drinks. For years, Starbucks has done regional radio, billboard, and print advertising to support their Frappuccino portfolio. They’ve come to believe this advertising push positively impacts sales and drives in new customers.

So why doesn’t Starbucks wait until the Spring/Summer months to go all-out with national television advertising? With sales already sluggish and customer traffic trending downward, the company doesn’t want to get too far behind their FY’08 sales goals. Keep in mind, Starbucks will generate around 25% of its 2008 sales during the six-weeks of Holiday. If the company falls behind early in hitting sales targets, 2008 could be a very rough year.

I believe this national television advertising push is a sign Starbucks is desperate to drive sales. Desperate enough to turn its back on the marketing strategy that has made Starbucks what it is today.

What Now?
We all get to sit back, watch the television commercials, and watch to see what impact this new marketing direction has on the Starbucks business and the Starbucks brand.
Want More?
Consider reading the What Must Starbucks Do? Manifesto. In April, I, along with a handful of other Starbucks customers, published a manifesto loaded with ideas on what Starbucks must do to reclaim its uniqueness, to better connect with customers, and to become the coffee company it once was. Read it again. Or, read it for the first time. >> MORE <<

If your appetite for mulling over Starbucks strategies is insatiable, you should review the series of posts Paul Williams and I did earlier this year. In this series of back-and-forth posts, we talked strategies, tactics, and shared some insider knowledge based upon our combined 19-years of marketing experience at Starbucks. Start here and work your way backward. Or, start here and work your way forward.

And of course, Jim Romenesko's Starbucks Gossip blog is all over this.

November 12, 2007

Who got Starbucked?


Taylor Clark’s STARBUCKED: A Double Tall Tale of Caffeine, Commerce, and Culture is receiving lots of positive ink. The Wall Street Journal loved it. As did the San Francisco Chronicle. It’s being positioned loftily as a “Part Fast Food Nation, part Bobos in Paradise” treatise on coffee and capitalism.

Taylor’s book is interesting reading but not necessarily mandatory reading for business folk and cultural studies folk. He traces the Starbucks story well from its inception in 1971 to its impact in 2007. However, it lacks punch.

(Keep in mind, I’m very close to this story having spent my formative marketing years working at Starbucks Coffee as well as written a book about what I think makes Starbucks a successful business.)

In expected alt-weekly journalism fashion, Taylor, a former writer with Portland’s Willamette Week alt-weekly, runs down the same old story of Starbucks opportunistic and capitalist ways.

Yes, Starbucks is hyper-competitive. Yes, Starbucks seeks prime real estate locations. Yes, Starbucks could do more to support coffee farmers. Yes, Starbucks added sizzle to the experience of drinking coffee. Yes, the familiarity of Starbucks brings about opinions of homogenization. Yes, Starbucks charges an ungodly premium for its coffee drinks. Yes, Starbucks has a strong corporate culture ethos. That we know.

While I found much of Taylor’s book to cover well-trodden territory, he managed to talk with lots of former Starbucks executive heavies. And the quotes these ex-Starbucks higher-ups shared with Taylor are at times fascinating. I wasn’t expecting to read such sulliable and ego-laden quotes. Which leaves me wondering if these past Starbucks execs weren’t Starbucked.

Taylor caught Howard Behar, former big-time Starbucks exec and current Starbucks board member, with some choice comments When asked about Howard Schultz’s vision of selling espresso beverages back when relatively few people could pronounce it, much less enjoy the taste of it, Behar is quoted as saying, “Howard will always say he knew this would work, but he’s full of shit. We didn’t know how it would turn out.” (p. 53)

When the topic of Tom O’Keefe, founder of regional coffee competitor Tully’s, comes up, Behar is quoted as blurting out an emphatic, “Fuck him.”(p. 128) And when Behar talks about critics referring to the taste of Starbucks coffee as burnt, he’s quoted as saying, “What used to piss me off was when they’d say ‘Charbucks.’ That’s like walking into a gallery and saying, ‘Your art is shitty.’(p. 70)

Scott Bedbury, former Starbucks Marketing VP, provided Taylor with some choice fodder as well. In talking about the role quality espresso drinks play at Starbucks, Bedbury is quoted as saying, “To be honest, you could train a monkey to pull a double-shot. It’s just not that hard.(p.88)

Engle Saez, another former Starbucks Marketing VP, shared some candid comments about Starbucks true competitive advantage. Taylor quotes Saez as saying, “Starbucks doesn’t have a lockdown patent on the environment; it doesn’t have a lockdown patent on the experience; and it doesn’t have a lockdown patent on the bean or the roast. All of those things can be duplicated. So what it comes down to is the dominance of real estate. That’s the one area where no one can out muscle Starbucks.(p. 115)

You’ll have to read the book to take in more choice candid comments from past Starbucks players. Starbucks insiders will get a kick outta how Taylor portrays former Starbucks Real Estate head Arthur Rubinfeld. (Oh my.)

Taylor and I actually spoke some months ago when he was in the process of writing STARBUCKED. I do not recall much about the conversation we had except the writer seemed young and guarded about the angle he was taking with the book. The quotes Taylor includes in the book from me are benign. Then again, I’ve already shared lots of pointed comments about Starbucks on this blog and Taylor had many former executive-level Starbucks people eager to riff about the company they once worked for.

Kudos to Taylor Clark for getting ex-Starbucks folks to open up and share some off-brand and at times, acrimonious remarks. I’m sure some of these folks will not be pleased with how they are portrayed.

As far as STARBUCKED being a book business enthusiasts would find worthwhile, I don’t think so. Just not enough business knowledge nuggets for us business wonks to learn from. However, the cultural studies crowd might find this book somewhat worthwhile … just not near as worthwhile as Fast Food Nation or Bobos in Paradise.

October 03, 2007

How Tiffany Saved Michael’s Life


In HOW STARBUCKS SAVED MY LIFE, Michael Gates Gill shares the story of how he dropped out of the corporate rat race and found happiness while working a $10.50/hr job as a Starbucks Barista. Michael’s story is interesting. However, the more interesting story is about Tiffany Edwards.

Tiffany, who Michael portrays as “Crystal Thompson” in the book, was the Starbucks store manager who hired him, an older worker with no relevant experience in the food service business. Michael’s relevant experience was as a former advertising executive and business consultant. Tiffany looked past Michael’s advancing age, his lack of food service experience, and his past-pampered professional life to hire him as an entry-level Starbucks Barista.

In his first couple days on the job, Michael became very concerned. He realized the job of being a Starbucks Barista was going to be much more difficult than he imagined. Michael writes, “I had originally thought that a job at Starbucks might be below my abilities. But now I realized it might be beyond them. This job could be a real challenge for me—mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Keep in mind Michael was dealing with lots of issues in his life during this time. His consulting business was defunct, the relationships with his children were defunct, and due in part to an affair … his marriage was defunct. Also during this time he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Michael’s whole belief system was shattered.

Tiffany helped to restore Michael’s belief system by being welcoming, considerate, and genuine. It just so happens those people qualities of being welcoming, considerate, and genuine are life skills Starbucks looks for in store-level employees, especially store managers.

Whenever I share with businesses some of the Starbucks Tribal Knowledge I learned from my days there, I always mention the importance of Making the Company Something to Believe In. This is about building an internal corporate culture where employees go way beyond being minions to being missionaries. When you make the company something to believe in, employees will talk about the quality of the company itself, the values the company endorses, and the ways in which their lives are enhanced because of it.

That’s what Tiffany did with Michael. All throughout the book, Michael gushes about how he believes in Starbucks. Michael learned those beliefs from the verbal and physical articulations of his superstar store manager, Tiffany Edwards. Read how Michael describes his Starbucks experience …

I had found with Starbucks a better reality … not based on external status symbols but on a real feeling of confidence and support and genuine affection and even admiration for and from the Partners and the Guests. And Crystal. Crystal and Starbucks had saved me. Saved me from my pursuit of empty symbols, but also my anxiety about a fear-filled superficial life that hadn’t been, in the end, helpful or even enjoyable for me.

An amazing story! Tiffany Edwards (“Crystal”) played a huge role in restoring Michael’s belief system by embodying the best qualities of the Starbucks corporate culture. Yet, we have heard nothing on record from Starbucks about this book, Michael Gates Gill, or Tiffany Edwards.

Starbucks seems to be purposely avoiding any connection to the HOW STARBUCKS SAVED MY LIFE story. Why is this? I don’t know.

Starbucks talks about getting bigger by acting smaller. As it relates to Michael and Tiffany, Starbucks is acting big, not small.

A big company avoids celebrating stories like the one in HOW STARBUCKS SAVED MY LIFE because it wasn’t “approved” by the company. On the other hand, a small company celebrates such a story because they are thrilled to have made a difference in an employee’s life.

Is it too much to ask for a blurb on the back of Michael’s book from Howard Schultz showing appreciation to Michael for sharing his inspiring story of finding happiness in life from being a Starbucks Barista? Is it too much to ask for doing an in-store book signing and reading at a couple Starbucks locations? Is it too much to ask for Starbucks to invite Michael to company headquarters to give a presentation to corporate employees on how life as a Barista gave his life meaning and purpose?

I don’t think so.

All of those simple acts would be ways Starbucks should act to get bigger by being smaller. Maybe Starbucks is doing some of these small things and I am just unaware. I hope that is the case because embracing the HOW STARBUCKS SAVED MY LIFE story is a simple way Starbucks can get small despite being big.

September 19, 2007

More EGM (Employee-Generated Media)

In the preceding post I mentioned how accounting firms are using Employee-Generated Media (EGM) in the form of short videos to help recruit new employees.

How about this instance of EGM … the just-published HOW STARBUCKS SAVED MY LIFE.


Michael Gates Gill, a former ad-exec, dropped out of the corporate rat race and found happiness while working a $10.50/hr job as a Starbucks Barista. Michael chronicles his self-discovery story in HOW STARBUCKS SAVED MY LIFE. (Read an excerpt here.)

It’ll be interesting to see how (or if) Starbucks embraces this book as an act of “employee-generated media.” Having a book on the market extolling the virtues and values of a company treating its employees well can only help in the recruitment of new employees.

On a side-note … Gill’s Starbucks story is remarkable, but not isolated. There are numerous stories of corporate refugees finding solace as a Starbucks Barista. I recall one such corporate refugee parlaying her Starbucks Barista job into being a Starbucks Zone Marketing Director.

Learn more about Michael's story:
>> USA TODAY article
>> NY Times article
>> WSJ Journal review
>> Reveries article

September 07, 2007

an Audacious Marketing Idea

Dannielle Blumenthal has an audacious marketing idea for Starbucks. I think for an idea to be audacious, it must make us squirm ... not squirm a little, but squirm a lot. When an audacious idea is first presented, most businesspeople will believe the idea is ill-advised, absurd, inconceivable, and just too audacious to do. Danielle's idea certainly fits the criteria for being labeled AUDACIOUS.

Her idea for Starbucks is to KILL THE BRAND and replace it with a another one. Dannielle writes ...

"... kill the brand while it's still at its peak, and replace it with another one. Right now. Today, the Starbucks brand is extracting the absolute most it can from its brand equity. It is at the top of the hill. It has nowhere to go but down. The company should pull back and create another, new brand "from the makers of Starbucks" which redefines the coffee category and gets back to the essence of what Starbucks used to be all about." MORE

Yep, that idea seems ill-advised, absurd, inconceivable, and just too audacious to do.

August 25, 2007

Starbucks Documentary

WHAT : Documentary tracing the history and impact of Starbucks
WHEN : Wed., August 29th at 9:00 pm (EST)
WHERE : Biography Channel

This should be worth watching. From my emails with the documentary producers, it appears they casted a wide net of talking heads to provide perspective on how and why Starbucks became an endearing and enduring business.

LEARN MORE HERE and watch on Wednesday.